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Does Delay Cause Decay? The Effect of Administrative Decision Time on the Labor Force Participation and Earnings of Disability Applicants

Author

Listed:
  • David Autor

    (MIT and NBER)

  • Nicole Maestas

    (RAND)

  • Kathleen Mullen

    (RAND)

  • Alexander Strand

    (Social Security Administration)

Abstract

An influential body of research studies the labor supply and earnings of denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applicants to estimate the potential employment and earnings of those awarded benefits. This research design implicitly treats employability as a stable applicant attribute that is not directly impacted by the process of applying for SSDI benefits. If, plausibly, applicants’ employment potential deteriorates while they are out of the labor force, then the labor force participation of denied applicants -- who spend an average of 10 months seeking benefits -- may understate their employment potential at the time of application. This paper tests whether the duration of SSDI applications causally affects applicants’ subsequent employment. We use a unique Social Security Administration workload database to identify exogenous variation in applicants’ initial decision times induced by differences in processing speed among the disability examiners to which they are randomly assigned. This variation significantly affects applicants’ total processing time but, importantly, is uncorrelated with their initial award and denial outcomes. We find that longer processing times reduce the employment and earnings of SSDI applicants in the years after their initial decision. A one standard deviation (2.4 month) increase in initial processing time reduces annual employment rates by 1 percentage point (3.2%) in years two, three and four post-decision. Extrapolating these effects to total applicant processing times, we estimate that the SSDI determination process directly reduces the post-application employment of denied applicants by approximately 3.6 percentage points (7%) and allowed applicants by approximately 5.2 percentage points (33%).

Suggested Citation

  • David Autor & Nicole Maestas & Kathleen Mullen & Alexander Strand, 2011. "Does Delay Cause Decay? The Effect of Administrative Decision Time on the Labor Force Participation and Earnings of Disability Applicants," Working Papers wp258, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp258
    as

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    File URL: http://www.mrrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/Papers/pdf/wp258.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Chen, Susan & van der Klaauw, Wilbert, 2008. "The work disincentive effects of the disability insurance program in the 1990s," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 757-784, February.
    2. Bound, John, 1989. "The Health and Earnings of Rejected Disability Insurance Applicants," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(3), pages 482-503, June.
    3. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2009. "Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 8769.
    4. Eric French & Jae Song, 2014. "The Effect of Disability Insurance Receipt on Labor Supply," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 6(2), pages 291-337, May.
    5. Nicole Maestas & Kathleen J. Mullen & Alexander Strand, 2013. "Does Disability Insurance Receipt Discourage Work? Using Examiner Assignment to Estimate Causal Effects of SSDI Receipt," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(5), pages 1797-1829, August.
    6. Parsons, Donald O, 1991. "The Health and Earnings of Rejected Disability Insurance Applicants: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1419-1426, December.
    7. Bound, John, 1991. "The Health and Earnings of Rejected Disability Insurance Applicants: Reply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1427-1434, December.
    8. Till von Wachter & Jae Song & Joyce Manchester, 2011. "Trends in Employment and Earnings of Allowed and Rejected Applicants to the Social Security Disability Insurance Program," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(7), pages 3308-3329, December.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H53 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Welfare Programs
    • I13 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Insurance, Public and Private
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • J38 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Public Policy

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