Applications, Denials, and Appeals for Social Security Disability Insurance
Olivia S. Mitchell and John W. R. Phillips
This project explores the process by which older workers apply for, and are awarded, Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits. Our focus is on how and whether DI serves as a path out of the labor market at older ages. This research is important to the extent that proposals to raise the early retirement age under Social Security alter the opportunity set available to older workers. Identifying the characteristics of older workers who apply for DI under current rules, those who are rejected after application, and those who then go on to appeal, can provide policymakers with insight regarding the potential well-being of the “at risk” population if the early retirement age were to rise. We use data from the Health and Retirement Study to compare older workers prior to application, and use these characteristics to predict future DI application and award patterns. The findings indicate that older people initially in poor health and with low economic status are more likely to apply for DI thereafter, as compared to those reporting no health problems and with more assets. Nevertheless few factors distinguish statistically between applicants awarded versus denied benefits, and between those who appeal rejected applications versus those who do not.