As we do from time to time, we sample emails sent to us from those who need assistance. If you look at the size of the population in the US, and the percentage of people who receive social security disability, a disproportionate number of requests for financial aid, referrals, and other assistance comes from people who (1) claim to be disabled or who (2) indicate they are receiving some form of federal government disability benefit or (3) are in the process of applying for SSDI or SSI.
About 3% of the population receives disability payments, but about 8 to 10% of the emails sampled were from people claiming to be disabled or filing for it they had their applications rejected. Once again, these will always be imprecise figures, but it is a decent estimate.
Number of disabled Americans
It is estimated by the social security administration that about 8.6 million Americans receive SSDI disability payments and a few hundred thousand receive SSI. Hundreds of thousands of others are often in the process of applying for disability as the majority of applications are denied.
There are others who may be mentally or physically disabled, sick, or in a hardship but are not part of any government assistance program of SSDI. As an example, the census bureau indicates that about 20 percent of the population (or 60 million Americans) have some form of minor disability, short term hardship, sick, injured, or major disability. Of course some issues may be minor and some may be much more life-changing.
We have reported that about 21% of the disabled live in poverty and that the average disability payment is about $1166 per month. So it is not surprising in that ~9% of the emails to us are from people claiming they are disabled (or applying) and are struggling.
It is obviously very challenging to live on $1166 per month, especially in high priced parts of the country. The 8 to 10% of emails show that. While it can be done, those with a disability will sometimes have higher expenses such as medical needs or prescription drugs. In addition, that level of income requires strict budgeting and financial discipline.
Now many people are born disabled, get sick or have a health care crisis at some point in their life, have serious physical or mental disabilities, etc. so they may not be able to work at all. However there are many people who still can work a little, maybe in less strenuous jobs or on a part time basis.
It is not widely known but the social security administration does allow employment at the same time as collecting SSDI payments, and some of those 9% of emails say people are doing exactly that as they try to make ends meet. Or they live with family, friends, and do what they can to keep up with the bills and keep expenses low. They are doing their best to make ends meet, but are still struggling.
Whether right or wrong, the disability programs in the US was meant to be “just a safety net” program. This means it was never intended to pay all the bills or create a certain quality of live. Now whether it should pay out more money or not is a bigger question for society at large and that is outside the scope of this site. Regardless it is not surprising then that 8 to 10% of requests are from the disabled considering that the average amount of payment.
One unfortunate thing is the amount of fraud in the SSDI disability system. While fraud exists to some extent in all benefit programs, the National Bureau of Economic Research reports a higher amount when it comes to disability. This has in effect the impact of lowering payments for all legitimate, truly disabled people as there is less money to go around due to the fraud payments. As many those 8 to 10% who send us emails would not be struggling as much if their payments were even just a little higher.
What should the 10% of email senders do? Many of the charities, non-profits, and even other government programs will give priority to the disabled. We have many disability resources listed on the main site, and we hope those can help the 9% of people who are requesting help.