SSDI provides an average monthly benefit of a little more than $1,100. Social Security Administration data as of December 2012 show that just over 7 percent of disabled workers get less than $500 a month, and roughly a quarter get between $750 and $999.
"We find that DI payments account for the majority of family income for nearly half of all beneficiaries," a 2013 Urban Institute report said. "Many DI beneficiaries live in poverty."
"People are not getting rich off SSDI benefits," said Kristin Lupfer, project director at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery Technical Assistance Center. "It's definitely a myth that getting by on benefits is easy."
Applications for SSDI do tend to rise during bad economies, but people aren't accepted at a greater rate. In 2013, just under 34 percent of applications were approved for benefits.
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Statistically, 3/4 of marriages impacted by chronic illness end in divorce. And although you'd like to believe that a disabled person would be eligible for alimony, in a lot of cases the spouse isn't earning enough to pay meaningful alimony. My ex was earning just over minimum wage at the time of our divorce -- even if I had tried to get alimony (which I didn't, because I was working), and even if they ordered him to give me half his paycheck, I would not have gotten enough to live on. I still would have needed some other source of income to make ends meet.
For the divorced recipient, which is many (if not most) of us, our own income is pretty much all there is. There is no one else in the family bringing in a paycheck. And when I was told "you should have had children to support you", I pointed out that a child conceived on the wedding night would have been too young to get working papers at the time I became disabled -- even with children, there would not have been anyone else in the household who COULD bring in a paycheck.
Applications rise in bad economies because those who are mildly disabled and have been working despite their disability find themselves unemployed and unemployable -- employers won't hire a disabled person when there are plenty of fully-able applicants begging for work. Since you need some income to live on, those who are now unemployed will try to get income from any source possible, including applying for SSDI. But applying is not the same as getting approved -- 2/3 of applicants are repeatedly denied. Eventually, the economy improves and when the able-bodied reach full employment, then employers are willing to consider a mildly disabled applicant, and those who "can" work go back to work.