The Importance of State Anti-Discrimination Laws on Employer Accommodation and the Movement of their Employees onto Social Security Disability Insurance

Published: 2011


The rate of application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, as well as the number of beneficiaries has been increasing for the past several decades, threatening the solvency of the SSDI program. One possible remedy is to promote continued employment amongst those experiencing the onset of a work limiting disability through the provision of workplace accommodations. Using the Health and Retirement Study data linked to Social Security administrative records and a state fixed effects model, we find that the provision of workplace accommodation reduces the probability of application for SSDI following disability onset. We estimate that receipt of an accommodation reduces a worker’s probability of applying for SSDI by 30 percent over five years and 21 percent over 10 years. We then attempt to control for the potential endogeneity of accommodation receipt by exploiting exogenous variation in the implementation of state and federal anti-discrimination laws to estimate the impact of workplace accommodation on SSDI application in an instrumental variables (IV) model. While our coefficients continue to indicate that accommodation reduces SSDI application, we obtain implausibly large estimates of this effect. Overall our results imply that increasing accommodation is a plausible strategy for reducing SSDI applications and the number of beneficiaries.

Key Findings

    • Using Health and Retirement Study data with linked Social Security Administration records, we find that 28 percent of individuals who experienced a work limitation while employed received an accommodation.
    • The probability of receiving an accommodation increased in the post-1992 period following the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • Our estimates confirm that accommodation effectively reduces the probability of application for SSDI following the onset of a work limitation.
    • Providing an employee with an accommodation after the onset of a work limitation would reduce applications to the SSDI program by 27 percent within a year and 30 percent within five years of onset.
    • These findings suggest that the provision of workplace accommodations would be an effective strategy for reducing applications for SSDI benefits, and potentially the number of people receiving SSDI.