5 Disability Facts that Are Just Plain Wrong

Disability Benefits

Important: We updated this article in December 2022 to include the most recent statistics and data available. In the era of Facebook and 24-hour cable news, everyone shares images and memes that appear to feature well-known disability facts. It’s a hot topic, which means there’s a lot of misinformation flying around out there. In a rapidly changing, sped-up economy, many folks worry about having to keep working their whole lives just to survive. It’s also become disturbingly easy to believe your hard-earned Social Security retirement money might end up in someone else’s pocket. So how can you distinguish disability facts from fiction online?

It appears that we’ve reached peak “fake news” about Social Security retirement and disability benefits. So, we thought we should dispel some key myths about Social Security disability. That way, we can then share some real disability facts with you. Below, we’ll list five disability myths that stay popular in pop culture and the media — followed by the true disability facts. (And don’t worry, we always back up our disability facts with sources and numbers sourced directly from the Social Security Administration.)

Fake News: Many people go straight from unemployment to disability.

The True Disability Facts: It’s not impossible, but both state and federal laws make it extremely difficult to do.

While you can go straight from unemployment to disability benefits if you became too disabled to work, it’s not typical. About 20% of Americans with disabilities actually do participate in the workforce. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for disabled Americans in 2016 was only 10.5%.

In addition, most states require you to show proof you’ve applied for jobs in the last 4 weeks to receive unemployment. However, you must prove you cannot work in any job at all for 12 months, minimum, to qualify for disability payments. These requirements directly contradict each other. For this reason, it’s far more likely for seriously injured or sick people to transition directly from workers’ comp payments into federal disability benefits. However, this often happens only after a severe on-the-job injury that makes any work impossible to do going forward.

Related: Five Quick Social Security Disability Facts (2022 Update!)

Fake News: People sign up for disability when they turn 18 and stay “on the system” to get benefits for life.

Before we debunk this one, just remember: Any disability facts people share on Facebook that spark outrage or anger usually aren’t true. But the ones you really have to watch out for are disability facts that are partly true. This is one of those partly true disability facts, because it can apply to children born blind and those whose lives are cut short by terminal illnesses. That said, social media is riddled with negative disability stereotypes.

The True Disability Facts: It’s impossible to get SSDI disability payments at 18 with no work record. SSI disability can begin at 18, but paid no more than about $7,936.20/year in 2022.

You must work at least 5 of the last 10 years to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. SSDI only pays benefits to you and your dependents if you have coverage. To qualify for benefits, you must work enough full-time years while paying Social Security taxes. In other words, you’d have to start working full-time at age 8 to qualify for SSDI on your 18th birthday.

Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI), however, can help anyone blind or disabled earning less than $1,470/month. This SSI program also provides benefits to children younger than 18 and individuals after they turn 65. That said, $914 is the maximum monthly individual payout for SSI benefits. So, unless you have a permanent disability that will never get better, you cannot stay on benefits forever. And even if you do, your monthly pay amount is very modest. On average, in October 2022, SSI beneficiaries aged 18-64 got $661.35/month in disability.

Fake News: Social Security is running out of money, and people on disability could keep others from drawing their earned retirement benefits.

This is one of those completely made up disability facts that never has been (and never will be) true!

The True Disability Facts: Federal law says no money that pays for disability benefits can come out of Social Security retirement’s trust fund. Congress also cannot borrow money from Social Security’s retirement trust fund to pay for other things.

The Disability Insurance (DI) and Old-Age Survivor Trusts the Social Security Administration administers are, by law, two separate funds. It is technically impossible for people receiving either SSDI or SSI disability to bankrupt the SSA’s retirement funds.

Fake News: The number of people signing up to collect disability benefits keeps going up each year.

The True Disability Facts: The population of people on disability benefits shrank every year since 2015 and is now the lowest it’s been since 2009.

In 2015, 8,909,430 disabled workers collected benefits. In October 2022, 7,673,000 disabled workers collected benefits. That’s almost a 14% drop, which shows SSDI beneficiary numbers are steadily going down. In fact, the disabled worker beneficiary numbers have been trending downward since September 2014. In 2015, about 8,300,000 people received SSI benefits. But in October 2022, that number fell to 7,573,000. That’s a 9% drop in less than 7 years. What’s more, SSI beneficiaries still comprise just 2% of the total U.S. population.

Fake News: Disability benefits keep men in their prime working years from finding a job.

The True Disability Facts: About 1.2% of working-age men in the U.S. receive any federal disability benefits.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, this myth is misleading for several reasons. First, in 2015, out of 4.6 million male SSDI beneficiaries, 34% were 60-65 years old. Second, the number of men aged 30-49 receiving SSDI payments have actually declined significantly in the past 7 years. In 2015, the number of male SSDI beneficiaries aged 30-49 was 1,068,931. More recently, in 2021, 798,709 men aged 30-49 got SSDI. In other words, prime working-age men on SSDI dropped almost 25% in that six-year period. Which also means SSDI isn’t driving the decline in male workforce participation.

This is also true for men aged 18-64 on SSI. When we compare the male SSI beneficiary numbers in 2015 (3,412,983) vs 2021 (3,226,737), those numbers fell by 5.5%.

Ready to learn the real disability facts that can help you apply for benefits and increase your chances for approval? We can help! In fact, you may qualify for free legal assistance from an experienced Social Security attorney near you. Most people don’t realize they’re 3x more likely to get benefits if a lawyer files their claim. Planning to risk it and file on your own? People that do this typically wait 2.5 years for their first disability check. If the SSA doesn’t approve your application for benefits, you pay the lawyer $0 for legal assistance. And if you do win, then you’ll only pay a small, one-time fee.

Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits claim evaluation now!

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Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.