Research & Analysis by Elisa Walker
Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries with Multiple Impairments
This article uses data from the Social Security Administration's National Beneficiary Survey and agency administrative records to estimate the number and examine the characteristics of adult disability-program beneficiaries with multiple impairments. In the survey, most beneficiaries report conditions in more than one impairment category. Beneficiaries with multiple impairments tend to have more activity limitations and poorer health than those reporting one impairment. They also tend to be older and to have higher household incomes than those with one impairment, and are less likely to have work-related goals and expectations. Administrative data contain fewer impairments per beneficiary and do not necessarily reflect the condition(s) that the beneficiary considers most limiting. Administrative data are complete for their purpose, but they may underrepresent the totality of disability that beneficiaries experience, and thus may be less predictive of employment and other outcomes than survey data.
Congress established the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program in 1956, after more than 20 years of debate. From the outset of the debate, however, there had been general agreement that the DI program should be for workers with substantial work histories, be funded through payroll taxes, include stringent disability criteria, provide modest benefit levels, and require return-to-work supports. Using administrative data on current DI beneficiaries, this issue paper examines how the program reflects those original tenets as it nears its 60th anniversary.