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SSA reports record number of new SSDI applicants in December

The Social Security Administration projected on Friday that around 90,000 people will apply for Social Security Disability Insurance this month, which would represent the record-highest increase in December applications in the agency's history. If the projection turns out to be accurate and they applications are approved at the average rate, the total number of SSDI beneficiaries could also reach record levels.

According to the Congressional Budget Office and a variety of experts, SSDI applications do tend to fluctuate with the economy. When jobs are plentiful, many people who could qualify for Social Security disability benefits are able to find some kind of work.

When the economy is bad, however, it is likely that the number of jobs available for those who are only marginally employable due to disabilities dries up. That means that people who would rather make it on their own with a part-time job with an understanding employer get pushed out of the workforce. As a result, they have no choice but to apply for SSDI.

Unemployment alone does not make you eligible for SSDI, of course. To be eligible for SSDI, applicants have to show that they are or expect to be totally disabled from work for at least a year. They also have to prove that their disability meets the SSA's criteria for a disabling condition.

Also, receiving SSDI benefits takes time. Applicants have to wait six months after their benefits are approved before receiving their first payment. With the SSA's historic backlog in applications and an already shrinking budget and workforce, getting those benefits approved can take up to two years.

Job growth is sluggish for everyone, and people who need a great deal of accommodation in order to work are likely the first to be laid off and the last to be asked back. For the trend to turn around, we will need sustained job growth year over year before the marginally employable are invited back to work.

Source: Investor's Business Daily, "Nearly 90,000 Apply For Disability, December Record," John Merline, Dec. 21, 2012

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