Are Minorities Denied Social Security Disability Insurance More Than Caucasians?

Now more than ever, social security disability insurance (SSDI) is important — and the courts have yet to decide whether or not COVID victims qualify for benefits. That makes this an excellent time to ask the obvious question: are minorities denied SSDI benefits more often than their white counterparts? We already know that minorities are more likely to apply for and receive benefits. But where does systemic racism and xenophobia fit into the equation?

SSDI denials are common. In fact, up to 70 percent of all SSDI applications are denied. Most applicants then lawyer up and appeal the decision — and many of these cases are then approved. It can take more than a year to learn the results of the first application, which means every day that goes by is important to the person applying. That’s a lot of money they don’t have to make life easier.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), more than 40,000 employees of the Social Security Administration (SSA) have charged the agency with discrimination. This is a big deal, in part because more than half of those employed for the SSA are labeled as minorities. 31 percent are African American, and 16 percent are Hispanic or Latino. Yet they receive top marks that are disproportionate to their white counterparts.

When systemic discrimination is so pervasive inside the agency, it’s hard to imagine what it might look like outside, especially since most applicants are minority figures. Much of the problem stems from the gutted protections during the Trump administration.

President Richard Couture of the AFGE Council said, “This pattern of systemic discrimination against Social Security employees is undeniable — and in fact the agency acknowledges that it exists — yet the agency has done nothing to rectify the problem or make the employees whole for their losses.”

AFGE National President Everett Kelley said, “The agency’s refusal to come to the table and settle this long standing issue continues a pattern of mistreatment against employees and their union representatives by this administration. This is the same administration that has taken action to decimate federal unions, gut workers’ due process rights and merit systems protections, prohibit agencies from educating employees about systemic discrimination in the workplace, and allow workers to be hired or fired at will.”

Even while this blatant discrimination eats away at the SSA from within, there was a plan last year to make it even more difficult to apply for benefits — which would undoubtedly affect minority applicants disproportionately. This was done by creating a new category of recipient called “medical improvement likely.” It would have paved the way for additional reviews after a set time period elapsed. 

Critics say it was most definitely not designed to reduce or eliminate fraud inside the SSA. They say that most people who receive benefits never return to work — and those who do return to work almost always suffer from a significant reduction in income because of the disability in question. And why should those benefits be stolen from the minorities who rely on them to survive?