Have Changes in State Workers’ Compensation Programs

Contributed to Rising Social Security Disability Insurance Receipt?


Melissa McInerney

College of William and Mary


Kosali Simon*

Cornell University and NBER

November 2009



During the 1990s, real outlays on Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits increased nearly 70 percent whereas real Workers Compensation (WC) cash benefit spending fell by 12 percent. There has been concern that this relationship between two of the nations largest social insurance programs may be due to individuals substituting towards DI as state WC policies tightened. We show this correlation between the national series does not hold within states, the level at which a causal relationship should operate. However, a causal relationship may still exist between the two programs despite a lack of correlation. We then test how regulatory changes in state WC program parameters impact WC outcomes (intended effect) and DI outcomes (unintended effect). We find no compelling evidence of WC tightening causing DI rolls to increase. We conclude it is unlikely that state WC changes were a meaningful factor in explaining the rise in DI.




* Corresponding author acknowledges support from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) through the Cornell University NIDRR Employment Policy RRTC. We thank Richard Burkhauser, John Burton, Xuguang Guo, Andrew Houtenville, and David Stapleton for sharing data that made this project possible. We are grateful to Richard Burkhauser, Susanne Bruyere, John Burton, Mark Duggan, Xuguang Guo, Judith Hellerstein, Andrew Houtenville, and David Stapleton for advice and encouragement. We thank Anna Choi, James Hunsberger, and Aparna Lhila for outstanding research assistance.


For more information or a full copy:

Kosali Simon, Associate Professor, Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University, kis6@cornell.edu. 

Melissa McInerney, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, College of William and Mary, mpmcinerney@wm.edu.