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Baby Boomers' Aging Wave Affects Social Security Disability Program

Allsup explains trends with Social Security Disability Insurance as population ages; though disability can take people from the work force at any age

Belleville, Ill.(Vocus) September 22, 2008 -- As the first wave of baby boomers reaches retirement age, an echoing wave of the working population is experiencing long-term disabilities, according to [Allsup], which represents people nationwide for [Social Security Disability Insurance] benefits (SSDI).

"Age 50 is a significant age in the disability process. It's the average age of men and women who come to Allsup for help in applying for their SSDI benefits," said CEO Jim Allsup. "The Social Security Administration's [disability guidelines] also say that age 50 is a turning point in someone's working career. The ability to change gears, once you've reached that age and experienced a disability, can be more difficult."

The United States' aging population has been fodder for many articles on the impact to the work force. This includes a recent study1 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which estimates the Social Security Administration (SSA) can expect 1 million more disability and retirement filings in 2017 than they do today. Already, nearly 2.5 million people apply2 each year for disability benefits alone.

On the flip side, an aging population is reflected in the number of retirements from the SSA's own work force. The federal agency expects 44 percent of the work force to retire by 2016.1

SSA is feeling the impact of the aging population, but one shouldn't automatically conclude that disability only affects individuals age 50 and higher.

The number of people receiving SSDI continues to rise across all age groups. The SSA reports the number of recipients increased by almost 290,000 in the past year. Nearly 7.1 million disabled workers3b now receive SSDI benefits, according to the SSA's annual statistical report3. The same report shows about one-third (33 percent) are under age 50. [SSDI] is a payroll tax-funded, federal insurance program. A portion of the FICA taxes you pay are set aside for SSDI (as well as Social Security retirement and Medicare).

Social Security disability benefits are designed to provide you with income if you are unable to work due to a disability or until your condition improves, and guarantees income if your condition does not improve. Then, once you meet your retirement age (65 or older), you move from SSDI to Social Security retirement income.

Allsup offers the following insights on the role of age in the [SSDI process].

What's Age Got to Do With It?
With the Social Security retirement program, eligibility is clear and begins with age 62 (for early retirement) and 65 to 67 (for full retirement).

When [applying for Social Security disability benefits], the minimum age is 18. The oldest an applicant could be is their full retirement age because that's when Social Security retirement benefits apply.

"There is no 'right' age to apply for SSDI benefits," said [Ed Swierczek], an Allsup senior claimant representative with more than three decades of SSA experience. "Circumstances are such that young professionals who have worked several years and experienced a seriously disabling illness or injury can apply for SSDI. But age is not the only factor. There are other eligibility requirements that also must be met in order to file an application for Social Security disability benefits."

Age-Specific Requirements
Along with age, someone's work record is considered in an SSDI application. Generally, people must have worked five out of the past 10 years and have 20 quarters of coverage to apply for SSDI.

People typically earn four quarters of credit for every year they work. For example, if you've worked five years, then you have earned 20 quarters of credit. Someone at age 48 would [qualify for SSDI] if he worked five of the years from age 38 to 48 and has those 20 quarters of coverage. The five years of work do not have to be consecutive.

Younger workers may qualify with fewer credits. For example, workers who are under age 24 may qualify if they have six credits earned in three years, usually the three years leading up to their disability.

Up to age 31, workers may qualify if they have worked half the time from age 21 leading up to their disability. For example, if someone becomes disabled at age 29, then he or she would qualify if they have credit for four years of work and FICA taxes paid.

"We have helped people of all ages apply for and receive SSDI," said Mr. Swierczek. "There are a number of factors that go into an individual's situation, so people should not automatically assume they cannot qualify because they are too young."

Why Is Age 50 Important?
One of the distinctions with the Social Security disability program is that the medical vocational rules that guide the SSDI process generally become more favorable for people age 50 and older.

This means that a person who is age 50 with a disability similar to that of a younger person has a greater likelihood of being [awarded SSDI benefits]. The guidelines also become more favorable at age 55 and older.

"The SSA considers several facets of a person's situation, including the type and duration of the disability, as well as the type of work available to them," Mr. Swierczek said. "They look at whether an individual has transferable skills to another line of work."

But age does not automatically eliminate someone from consideration. "Age is one of many factors in a case," Mr. Swierzek said. "Ultimately, the decision must be based on the impact of the impairment and how it affects someone's ability to perform any work."

Experiencing an injury, chronic illness or disease condition causes stress and worry for individuals (of any age) and their families. Allsup recognizes the difficulties in navigating the [SSDI process] and makes experts available online and by calling (800) 479-4357.

For answers and more details specific to your circumstances, go to

1 - May 8, 2008, "Social Security Administration Field Offices: Reduced Workforce Faces Challenges as Baby Boomers Retire"; U.S. Government Accountability Office

2 - Fiscal Year 2007, "Performance and Accountability Report for FY 2007"; Social Security Administration

3 - September 2008, "Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, 2007" (3b-Table 1); Social Security Administration-Office of Policy Data

About Allsup:
Allsup, Belleville, Ill., is a leading nationwide provider of financial and healthcare related services to people with disabilities. Founded in 1984, Allsup has helped more than 100,000 people receive their entitled Social Security Disability Insurance and Medicare benefits. Allsup employs more than 500 professionals who deliver services directly to consumers and their families, or through their employers and long-term disability insurance carriers. For more information, visit


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