In this brief, we presented the employment, income, and program participation patterns of people during the 42-month period before they applied for SSDI benefits. Identifying characteristics of those at greater risk for SSDI application can inform policies to divert people with disabilities from applying for SSDI, and can ensure that the supports necessary to make work feasible are provided to them.
As expected, we observed a decline in employment and earned income of SSDI applicants before they applied for benefits, with the biggest change occurring during the six months preceding application. Surprisingly, more than two-thirds were employed at some point during this period--and had private health insurance coverage--suggesting an opportunity to divert SSDI entry by providing employment supports to maintain their connection to the workforce. Conversely, a larger proportion of applicants received poverty-related benefits and Medicaid up to 36 months before applying for SSDI than the general population did, pointing to possible longer-term issues in their attachment to or level of work.
It is noteworthy that participation in income and other support programs increased markedly during the six months before SSDI application. This increased access to some benefit programs--most notably, employer-based disability insurance, workers' compensation, SNAP, and Medicaid--may point to areas where investments in early intervention initiatives could be fruitful.