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The Fraction of Disability Caused at Work

By: Robert T. Reville and Robert F. Schoeni
Published: June 2005
This article was published in the June 2005 Social Security Bulletin. It was originally part of a policy research seminar co-hosted by the National Academy of Social Insurance and the Social Security Administration (SSA) on June 24, 2004. The seminar, titled Interaction of Workers' Compensation and Social Security Disability Insurance, brought together experts in both workers' compensation and disability programs to examine and emphasize the overlap between workers' compensation and Social Security Disability Insurance. Presenters and discussants at the seminar also proposed policies to improve the coordination and management of workers' compensation and Social Security for disabled Americans who are eligible for both programs.

Disability has high societal and personal costs. Various disparate federal and state programs attempt to address the economic and social needs of people with disabilities. Presumably workplace injuries and accidents are an important source of disability. Yet separate public policies and research literatures have evolved for these two social problems—disability and workplace injuries—despite their relatedness. This article seeks to document the overlap between these two phenomena in estimating the proportion of the disabled population whose disability was caused by workplace injury, accident, or illness using the Health and Retirement Study of 1992. The results point toward the need for initiatives to reduce disability that focus on work-related causes, which are a common pathway to disability, and that may result in substantial savings in federal programs.