Social Security Benefits for the Disabled and Their Dependents

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2018 by AARP. All rights reserved.

Almost 11 million Americans get Social Security’s disability benefits, a protection that extends to almost 2 million dependent family members. Social Security’s disability program is complicated, and it can be difficult to meet the standards required for benefits.

Many applicants for Social Security disability benefits are turned down, but these decisions may be reversed in the appeals process.

You may not like to think about the risks you take walking out the door, but they may be higher than you realize. Almost four in ten men entering the labor force will become disabled or die before reaching retirement age; the same fate awaits more than three out of ten women.

The table provides probabilities of death or disability for young workers (people born in 1996, in this example).

Probabilities of Death or Disability

Probability of … Male Female Combined
Death or disability before retirement 42% 30% 36%
Death before retirement (excluding disability) 9% 6% 8%
Disability before retirement (excluding death) 32% 24% 28%

Source: Social Security Administration