Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers

Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



Previous economic downturns have led to increases in applications for and, eventually, receipt of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In the pandemic-induced recession of 2020 and its aftermath, however, SSDI applications did not increase. One important factor may have been the prolonged closure of SSA field offices, since previous research finds that field office closures lead to persistent declines in SSDI beneficiaries in the surrounding communities. In this case, there may be pent-up demand for SSDI benefits as normal operations resume in areas where the economy has not fully recovered. Nevertheless, unemployment insurance expansions and other government support programs were materially different than in past recessions, which appears to have enabled people to weather the downturn and avoid applying for SSDI benefits. In this paper, we draw on prior research and recent federal statistics to discuss the unfolding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the SSDI program and its beneficiaries.


disability insurance, unemployment insurance, pandemic

JEL Code

D12, D18, G2, G5, G18

Working Paper Number


Copyright/Permission Statement

All findings, interpretations, and conclusions of this paper represent the views of the authors and not those of the Wharton School or the Pension Research Council. © 2022 Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. All rights reserved.

Included in

Economics Commons



Date Posted: 01 August 2022