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Induced Entry into the Social Security Disability Program: Using Past SGA Changes as a Natural Experiment


  • Nicole Maestas

    (RAND Corporation)

  • Kathleen J. Mullen

    (RAND Corporation)

  • Gema Zamarro

    (RAND Corporation)


The number of American adults receiving benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has increased dramatically over the past several decades. A proposed solution to rising program costs is to change program rules to encourage fully or partially recovered SSDI beneficiaries to return to work. One such option is a benefit offset policy, which would reduce SSDI benefits by $1 for every $2 of earned income. While a benefit offset could generate savings from increased labor supply and program exit among current beneficiaries, it could also generate unintended costs if the more generous work rules induce significant numbers of working individuals to apply for benefits. In this paper we examine how past changes in a closely related program parameter, the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold, have affected SSDI applications. We exploit changes over time and across states in real relative SGA levels, relative to local average wages. We find that a 7 percentage point (30%) increase in the real relative SGA (on par with the 1999 increase from $500 to $700 per month) was associated with a 4.7% increase in applications.

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  • Nicole Maestas & Kathleen J. Mullen & Gema Zamarro, 2012. "Induced Entry into the Social Security Disability Program: Using Past SGA Changes as a Natural Experiment," Working Papers wp262, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  • Handle: RePEc:mrr:papers:wp262

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hoynes, Hilary Williamson & Moffitt, Robert, 1999. "Tax Rates and Work Incentives in the Social Security Disability Insurance Program: Current Law and Alternative Reforms," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 52(4), pages 623-654, December.
    2. Dan Black & Kermit Daniel & Seth Sanders, 2002. "The Impact of Economic Conditions on Participation in Disability Programs: Evidence from the Coal Boom and Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 27-50, March.
    3. Jody Schimmel & David C. Stapleton & Jae Song, 2010. "How Common is "Parking" Among Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Beneficiaries? Evidence from the 1999 Change in the Level of Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)," Working Papers wp220, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    4. 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.
    5. Duggan, Mark & Singleton, Perry & Song, Jae, 2007. "Aching to retire? The rise in the full retirement age and its impact on the social security disability rolls," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1327-1350, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yonatan Ben-Shalom & David Stapleton, 2013. "Trends in the Composition and Outcomes of Young Social Security Disability Awardees," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 11a2e93ee9b1466baf2365854, Mathematica Policy Research.
    2. repec:mpr:mprres:7847 is not listed on IDEAS

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