Magazine article Policy & Practice

Disability Benefits 101-Today's Portal to the Possible

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Disability Benefits 101-Today's Portal to the Possible

Article excerpt

Real-Time Information Supports Employment, Saves Time for Many

The Challenge

Current employment rates and economic conditions for Americans with disabilities are grim, and getting worse. This trend is especially troubling when considering youth with disabilities. During March 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the employment rate for youth with disabilities ages 16 to 19 to be 11.6 percent compared to 24.7 percent for sameaged youth with no disabilities. Youth with disabilities ages 20 to 24 had an employment rate of 31.4 percent. The employment rate for youth ages 20 to 24 with no disabilities was 61.0 percent for March 2011. Regarding individuals with disabilities overall. . . "In May 2011, the percentage of people with disabilities in the labor force was 21.1. By comparison, the percentage of persons with no disability in the labor force was 69.7. The unemployment rate for those with disabilities was 15.6 percent, compared with 8.5 percent for persons with no disability, not seasonally adjusted" (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Recent Research Prompts Rethinking Work, Disability and How to Provide Employment Supports

The Center for Economic and Policy Research outlined the challenge in more detail in 2009: "Almost half of working-age adults who experience income poverty for at least a 12-month period have one or more disabilities. People with disabilities are much more likely to experience various forms of material hardship - including food insecurity, not getting needed medical or dental care, and not being able to pay rent, mortgage and utility bills - than people without disabilities, even after controlling for income and other characteristics. Measures of income poverty that fail to take disability into account likely underestimate the income people with disabilities need to meet basic needs" (Half in Ten, Why Taking Disability into Account is Essential to Reducing Income Poverty and Expanding Economic Inclusion, September 2009).

Almost 12 million Americans today receive Social Security disability benefits, according to recent Social Security Administration (SSA) data. Most receive cash benefits and attendant health coverage from the Supplemental Security Income program (SSI, in most states along with Medicaid) and/or the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI, with attendant Medicare after two years of SSDI cash benefits).

A longitudinal review of this growing group, from 2004 through 2007, reveals that it contains a subset that is actively pursuing work-focused activities. In tracking earnings data from 2004 to 2007 and relating it to Social Security's National Beneficiary Survey data, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) found that 40 percent of current SSA disability beneficiaries (about 4.4 million individuals) are work-oriented. MPR research finds that this work-oriented subset has goals of getting a job, moving up in a job, or learning new job skills. Individuals in the subset see themselves in paid work over the next five years. Of this group, 21 percent had earnings in all four years. The 21 percent subset represents 890,000 Social Security disability beneficiaries who have had earnings for four years in a row (Livermore, Gina, Work-Oriented Social Security Dhability Beneficiaries: Characteristics and Employment-Related Activities, Mathematica Policy Research, December 2009).

The Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative - Addressing the Challenge

The California-based World Institute on Disability (WID) works to eliminate barriers to full social integration and to increase employment, economic security and health care for persons with disabilities. WID has been addressing the information needs of job seekers with disabilities since 2000 with development of its Employment and Disability Benefits Initiative. Disability Benefits 101 (DBlOl) is part of this Initiative.

DBlOl presumes there are large numbers of people with significant disabilities with expectations to work, with plans to work and who are seeking to make informed decisions about work. …

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