For Immediate Release | September 6, 2023


William Arnone, 202-452-8097

Today, the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (“the Academy”) released a major new report finding that Older Workers in Physically Challenging Jobs Need Stronger Social Insurance Supports. The report, which follows two years of deliberations by the Academy’s nonpartisan Older Workers Retirement Security Task Force, provides policymakers with a broad range of policy options to improve retirement security for older workers who are in physically demanding jobs and facing health challenges, but do not currently qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or otherwise face barriers to accessing the benefits.

“Long before COVID-19, millions of older workers were in real trouble,” said Elaine Weiss, the Task Force’s Principal Investigator. “But too little has been done to address the grim reality facing many workers in their 50s and 60s who work in jobs they can no longer perform, but who cannot afford to retire early.”

More than 10 million Americans over age 50 work in physically arduous jobs, and those numbers are only growing, the report finds. Many of these workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, and a growing share of whom are female,  have significant health problems that exacerbate those challenges.

The U.S. social insurance infrastructure–Social Security retirement and disability benefits, Unemployment Insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, and Workers’ Compensation–provides critical protection against poverty and hardship. However, the Task Force’s report finds that these programs, as currently designed, do not adequately protect this group of workers, with too many falling through the cracks of our public policies long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As they age, many older workers in physically challenging jobs have little recourse as their bodies break down–other than waiting for the earliest Social Security claiming age of 62,” said Barbara Bovbjerg, Task Force Chair and former Managing Director of Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Meanwhile, claiming early retirement benefits comes with a dramatic reduction in monthly and lifetime benefits, and this reduction is only getting larger as the full Social Security retirement age rises to 67,” she continued. Moreover, the report finds, few of these workers qualify for Social Security disability benefits, which are incredibly difficult to access even for workers who do meet the stringent eligibility criteria.

The Academy’s Task Force on Older Workers’ Retirement Security comprises 12 of the nation’s leading experts on Social Security, retirement security, and disability policy. (See below for the full list.) The Task Force’s report identifies more than two dozen policy options to strengthen U.S. social insurance supports and better support these older workers.

The Academy will convene a live virtual event on September 14, 12:30-1:45pm ET, to discuss the report’s findings and policy options, featuring Task Force Chair Barbara Bovbjerg, Principal Investigator Elaine Weiss, and a panel made up of Task Force members and other leading experts on retirement security, aging, and disability, including Joel Eskovitz, Director of Social Security and Savings at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

The work of the Task Force builds on a 2019 Social Security policy innovations challenge that the Academy hosted in partnership with AARP. The challenge yielded four complementary policy proposals–including a new idea to add a “bridge benefit” to Social Security for older workers who can no longer continue in jobs that are physically challenging or because their health has declined–to address the economic insecurity experienced by older workers who must claim Social Security retirement benefits early due to declining health, an inability to continue to perform physically demanding jobs, or other related factors.

The full report, along with additional resources, is available on the Academy’s website.


Members of the Task Force on Older Workers’ Retirement Security:

Barbara Bovbjerg, Chair, U.S. Government Accountability Office (retired)

Elaine Weiss, Principal Investigator

Lowell Arye, Aging and Disability Policy and Leadership Consulting

Stacy Cloyd*

Eva Dominguez*

Joel Eskovitz, AARP Public Policy Institute

Constance Garner, Foley Hoag, LLP

Bethany Lilly, The Arc

Alaine Perry, independent consultant, Social Security and disability policy

Ken Sokol, Financial Planner

Rusty Toler, Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement and Social Security Works

Rebecca Vallas, The Century Foundation and Disability Economic Justice Collaborative

*indicates no affiliation

Since the National Academy of Social Insurance was founded in 1986, it has provided rigorous inquiry and insights into the functioning of our nation’s social insurance programs – Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment Insurance, and Workers’ Compensation. Now comprised of over 1,200 of the nation’s top experts in social insurance and related policies and programs, the Academy studies how social insurance will meet the changing needs of American families, employees, and employers. The Academy also looks at new frontiers for social insurance, including areas of uninsured or underinsured economic risks. To learn more about the Academy’s work, please visit, or follow @socialinsuranceon Twitter. 

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