Monday, August 28, 2017

Decline in Labor-Force Participation Not Due to Disability Programs

Kathy Ruffing
August 25, 2017

Labor-force participation — the share of adults 16 and older who are working or looking for work — peaked at just over 67 percent in 1996-2000 and has fallen since then. Some analysts observe that the number of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries grew steeply after 2000, and assume the two trends are related. But evidence for that connection is weak. Here’s why:

Most of the growth in SSDI stemmed from demographic causes. We estimate that 70 percent of SSDI’s enrollment growth since 2000 reflects four big demographic factors: population growth, aging of the baby boom, growth in women’s labor force participation, and the rise in Social Security’s full retirement age from 65 to 66.


Rising SSDI receipt and falling labor-force participation aren’t affecting the same age groups.


There’s no reason to think that SSDI beneficiaries would otherwise be in the work force. SSDI allows and encourages work, but few beneficiaries take advantage. That’s no surprise: SSDI recipients are mostly 50 or older, have suffered a severe medical impairment after a lifetime of work, experience high death rates, and typically have limited education. Even rejected applicants struggle in the labor market, and so do former SSDI recipients whose benefits have stopped.


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