I've heard people say that 'millions' of people have signed up for Social Security disability since the recession and this is one way people have opted out of the workforce.
I wrote about the 2% drop in the labor force last month. One point I touched on then was the number of disabled workers and how that impacted labor participation But when I did that i looked at the BLS data on disabled workers. However thats not the same as the number of people receiving disability benefits from the Social Security administration.
I found data for the number of beneficiaries receiving Social Security disability from 1957 to 2011 in the Table 5.A17 of the 2012 Annual Statistical Supplement for Social Security
Here are the numbers over time :
To see the percent of workers on SS disability versus the adult population I calculated the SS disability beneficiary # / Civilian noninstitutional population over 16 years old. I got the population from the BLS labor force statistics I think this is a better way to look at the figures since it is in relation to the adult working age population.
In general it seems the upward trend has been ongoing for around 20 years. Theres no big spike in the numbers around the recession.
I find the long term trend interesting. The numbers went up progressively from the 50's to the 70's. But then they dropped and slowed considerably from around 1975 to 1990. Then in the 1990's and onward they started growing again at the same rate they were growing in the 50's and 60's. I have no idea what caused the long term changes in the growth rate. I would suspect there were changes in policy in the 70's or 80's or maybe changes in demographics impacted it as well.