Why SSD is So Important in Tennessee and ‘The Disability Belt’

March 21st, 2018 by Attorney John Colvin

The “Disability Belt” is a term for a geographic region – roughly from West Virginia to Missouri – where a high percentage of people are receiving Social Security Disability benefits. In certain counties within this area, poverty rates are high and employment opportunities are scarce. When jobs are available, they usually entail manual labor.

SSD is a last resort for people who want to work but can’t, due to a mental or physical disability. Some lawmakers say that the increase in the number of SSD recipients indicates people are taking advantage of the system. But there are plenty of reasons SSD claims have increased.

A Change in Demographic

In 2016, 26 percent of the population was age 35 to 54; and 24 percent of the population was younger than 18. And between 2000 and 2010, the number of people age 45 to 64 increased by 31.5 percent. These figures are relevant to understanding why SSD claims have increased, because:

  • The legal age of “early” retirement is 62; full Social Security retirement benefits are available beginning at age 66 and 2 months
  • Anyone who suffers a disability before age 62 will have to either find alternative work or apply for disability
  • Most people file for disability in their 50s and 60s, and that age group is now a much larger percentage of the population

So, a shift in demographics is one reason SSD claims have increased. Additionally, SSD benefits may be paid to dependent minor children of eligible workers, and the under-18 population has increased.

How Policy Changes Affected Statistics

Jeffrey B. Liebman, an economist at Harvard University, published a paper in 2015 that analyzed the increase in SSD beneficiaries. He said that laws passed in 1980 expanded the Social Security Administration’s authority to rescind benefits based on findings in their case reviews. As a result, 490,000 people lost their benefits. In 1984, new amendments limited the SSA’s ability to discontinue benefits, so the combined effect of the 1980 and 1984 policy changes caused a swift decline and then a rapid rise in benefit recipients.

Without context, statistics can be misleading. The rise in SSD claims is not disproportionate to the number of working-age people.

Government Caused Spike in SSD Program’s Cost

The SSA used to define the official age of retirement as 65, but that changed in 1983, and the retirement age has inched upward over time. Although the current retirement age is 66 and 2 months, the government offers an incentive to people who delay collecting retirement benefits until age 67: an 8-percent increase in benefits, for each year a retiree delays collecting benefits.

The effects of changing the retirement age can be seen in the number of older applicants applying for SSD. Before 1983, a person age 64 could apply for disability, and switch over to retirement benefits a year later. Now, a 64-year-old worker who suffers a disability would have to draw partial retirement benefits or apply for disability to cover them until they reach full retirement age.

People are working later in life than ever before, especially in poor Disability Belt communities, where people can’t afford to retire. SSD is an essential benefit in this part of the country.

John R. Colvin, Attorney at Law, has successfully represented injured and disabled clients throughout Tennessee and Alabama who have needed help with their SSD claims. He has also helped people appeal denials for benefits. For over 20 years, he has been helping disabled individuals put their lives back on track, and he is ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next or if you have any questions about this topic, call 1-931-962-1044 or submit this online form. Put his bold approach and client focus to work for you.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama