From Disability to Low Retirement Income
By their early 60s, four out of five workers have chronic health problems. One in four has developed some type of physical or cognitive limitation.
If these problems force them to stop working, they can apply to Social Security for disability. But developing a disability late in a career still has long-term financial consequences. These workers not only give up their steady paychecks. Their preparations for retirement are also derailed at a critical time.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Disability and Policy Studies quantifies the financial fallout. Four groups were compared, each ranging in age from 67 to 69. One started receiving disability benefits sometime between 58 and 62. A second group went on disability between 62 and Social Security’s full retirement age, which is 66 for most boomers. The other two groups claimed their regular retirement benefits. One signed up between the earliest age allowed – 62 – and the full retirement age, and one started their benefits after the full retirement age, which yields a larger monthly check.
Where each of the four groups falls in a ranking of retirement incomes is easy to predict: the earlier a worker starts disability benefits, the less income he’ll have. Healthy retirees, on the other hand, enjoy big rewards from continuing to work, saving in a 401(k), accruing pension credits, and delaying Social Security.
Household income for the last group to retire was $76,000 per year at ages 67 to 69, with Social Security providing only about a third of it, according to researchers at Mathematica who conducted the study for the Disability Research Consortium. Households that claimed a retirement benefit between 62 and the full retirement age had $48,000 in income, with 45 percent supplied by Social Security.
The retirees who had been on disability were far worse off in their late 60s. If they started receiving the benefits between 62 and their full retirement age, they had only $36,000 in household income in their late 60s – not even half the income of the late retirees. Social Security retirement benefits were the largest source of income, supplying two-thirds of it.
Finally, those who went on disability prior to 62 paid a steep price for having to quit working during their peak earning years: their retirement income was $25,000 per year. They, too, relied on Social Security for two-thirds of it.
People who develop a disability are already likely to be at a disadvantage, because they tend to have less education and lower earnings than healthy workers. This gap between healthy and disabled workers didn’t increase after the disability benefits started. Social Security was a major reason.
However, being disabled still leads to “worse financial outcomes that persist well into the post-retirement years,” the researchers conclude.
To read this study, authored by April Yanyuan Wu and Jody Schimmel Hyde, see “The Postretirement Well-Being of Workers with Disabilities.”
The research reported herein was performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the author(s) and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.