Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance Beneficiaries with Intellectual Disability

Publisher: Social Security Bulletin, vol. 77, no. 1
Jan 01, 2017
Gina A. Livermore, Maura Bardos, and Karen Katz

Key Findings:

  • People with ID represent an important group of disability program beneficiaries, especially in the SSI program, where they make up more than one-fifth of recipients. These individuals receive benefits for extended periods, resulting in high DI, SSI, Medicare, and Medicaid program expenditures during their working-age years.
  • Beneficiaries with ID differ from those with other disabilities in many respects. For example, they reported better health and fewer activity limitations, and they were more likely to be employed or interested in employment. Most of those who worked did so part time and for low wages; their average monthly earnings were about half the earnings of beneficiaries with other impairments. Relative to other beneficiaries, those with ID received less income from public and private sources of assistance and were at greater risk of poverty.
  • Although many beneficiaries with ID were employed at the time of their NBS interview, the findings suggest that they faced numerous obstacles to substantial employment and independence. The majority of the beneficiaries with ID in our study had never worked for pay. Disability onset during childhood, along with significant cognitive limitations, may have restricted their opportunities for paid employment and for completing a high school or equivalent education. Most of those who worked were employed in sheltered or supported work settings. One-half of the beneficiaries with ID earned below the federal minimum wage, suggesting that many were in jobs with limited earnings potentials or opportunities to advance.
People with intellectual disability (ID) make up about 14 percent of all working-age Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries. Because of their disabilities, many face major employment challenges and often receive federal disability program benefits for several decades. This article describes these beneficiaries and compares them to those without ID. The two groups differ markedly in a number of ways; for example, those with ID are more likely to be working, but they also earn significantly less than other disability program beneficiaries. Their relatively low earnings, combined with low benefits, contribute to a higher overall rate of poverty—particularly among those who receive only DI.