We provide the first evidence on the relationship between disability programs and markers of financial distress: bankruptcy, foreclosure, eviction, and home sale. Rates of these adverse financial events peak around the time of disability application and subsequently fall for both allowed and denied applicants. To estimate the causal effect of disability programs on these outcomes, we use variation induced by an age-based eligibility rule and find that disability allowance substantially reduces the likelihood of adverse financial events. Within three years of the decision, the likelihood of bankruptcy falls by 0.81 percentage point (30 percent), and the likelihood of foreclosure and home sale among homeowners falls by 1.7 percentage points (30 percent) and 2.5 percentage points (20 percent), respectively. We find suggestive evidence of reductions in eviction rates. Conversely, the likelihood of home purchases increases by 0.86 percentage point (20 percent) within three years. We present evidence that these changes reflect true reductions in financial distress. Considering these extreme events increases the optimal disability benefit amount and suggests a shorter optimal waiting time.

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BFI Working Paper Nov 8, 2018

Who Is Screened Out? Application Costs and the Targeting of Disability Programs

Manasi Deshpande, Yue Li