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Supplemental Security Income - Ssi Recipients

age aging social percent disabled million disabilities

According to Social Security Administration data, the federal SSI recipient population had increased from almost four million in 1974 to over 6.5 million in 1999. In addition to an increase in size, the composition of the SSI population had changed significantly.

In 1974 aged beneficiaries comprised 58 percent of the recipients, and the blind and disabled made up the other 42 percent. Since then a notable reversal has taken place. In 1999 the number of aged recipients had dropped to only 19 percent of the total and, according to SSA estimates, was expected to continue to decline. In contrast, the number of blind and disabled recipients had risen to 81 percent of the total (see Figure 1). Included in the growing number of persons with disabilities was the category of disabled children. In 1974 children comprised only 1.8 percent of the total SSI population. By 1999 they represented 12.8 percent of SSI recipients.

Aged recipients. The decline in participation of the older population in SSI can be credited, at least in part, to the automatic cost-of-living adjustment applied annually to Social Security benefits since 1974. Keeping the value of Social Security benefits in line with the prices of goods and services helped reduce the number of older persons falling into poverty, which in turn reduced the number of older persons receiving SSI.

The significant drop in SSI participation rates, however, should not be construed as a signal that older people no longer need the program. More than two million individuals over age sixty-five are receiving SSI. Of these, 57 percent are age seventy-five or older, and 73 percent are women. Many, if not most, of these women are widowed. Only SSI stands between them and destitution.

Blind and disabled recipients. SSI recipients with disabilities are among the most vulnerable children and adults. SSA estimated that Figure 1 Percentage of SSI Recipients (Aged, Blind, and Disabled) for 1974 and 1999 SOURCE: Author there would be nearly 1.5 million SSI disability applications in 2000—a number projected to increase gradually up to the year 2025, in part because baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are aging and becoming increasingly likely to experience disabilities.

This growth in the number of applications and recipients presents an enormous challenge to SSI: it must find effective ways to encourage and enable recipients with disabilities to work if they can, while ensuring that recipients who cannot work continue to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. To these ends, SSA is attempting to streamline its evaluation process, so that people who qualify can get SSI benefits as soon as possible, and continue to get them as long as they qualify. In 2000, in addition to the established incentives, SSI and SSA launched a series of new work incentives to promote and support return to work.

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