The United States saw a rapid increase in the number of working Americans who live on Social Security disability benefits between the years 1996 and 2015. But the disability benefit rates in rural areas are almost twice as high as that in urban areas.


The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was established in 1956 to provide benefits to disabled Americans who are incapable of working. Several disabled workers are relying on SSDI benefits, but only about four out of 10 applicants are being approved. And securing approval could take as much as two years and could even go beyond that.


Experts are pointing to demographics as the primary contributor to SSDI’s growth. The baby boomer generation is aging, and they are reaching a certain age when likelihood of disability is increasing. Other factors include population growth and the increase of women who are in the workforce.


However, there is also the congressional mandate that broadened Social Security’s definition of disability, and economic factors like recession and lenient approval regulations.


In 2015, the number of people on disability benefit decreased for the first time in about a decade. This is due to the decrease in demographic factors that contribute to growing rates. Another reason was that the older population has aged into retirement.


The growing disability benefit rates present a problem. The federal agency has estimated that the disability funds will be depleted in the next 10 years or so.         The U.S. government is looking at spending about $192 billion in disability benefit payments, which is bigger than the combined expenses for welfare, housing subsidies, food stamps and unemployment benefits.


Disability payments are not substantial; the amount is barely enough to sustain daily living. Disability payments depend on how much money the beneficiary has made. The average monthly payment is below $1,200, and the amount can be non-taxable for some beneficiaries. Apart from SSDI benefits, beneficiaries may also receive health insurance under Medicare.


According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), some beneficiaries die while on disability benefits. Others return to work, but the numbers are low. While they can go back to work, they may not be able to keep their jobs for a long time due to their condition. Or they return to work but have to subsist with a smaller income so as not to exceed the threshold, hence they lose their benefits.


Disability benefit rates are not the same across the country. While majority of disability beneficiaries are living in the populous urban and suburban areas, the number of Social Security disability recipients is disproportionately greater in rural areas. About 9.1 percent of the American working-age population in rural areas are receiving disability benefits, compared to the 6.5 percent national average and the 4.9 percent disability benefit rates in urban areas. According to experts, there are even more beneficiaries in central Appalachia and the Southeast, which are then known to economists as the “disability belts” due to the number of people receiving disability benefits. The difference in disability benefit rates is a major indicator of the gap between rural and urban America.


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