About SSDI 2018-02-16T02:04:35+00:00

About SSDI

An overview of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program can help you make sense of what can be a puzzling process.

Get a better understanding of the SSA’s definition of disability, how the current state of Social Security Disability Insurance and the backlog may affect your claim, and the terminology that’s used by the SSA.

What Is Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a payroll tax-funded, federal insurance program. A portion of the FICA taxes you pay are set aside for SSDI (as well as Social Security Retirement and Medicare). SSDI was established in 1956 and is designed to provide you with income if you’re unable to work due to a disability or until your condition improves, and guarantees income if your condition doesn’t improve. Upon retirement age (65 or older) you move from SSDI to Social Security retirement income.

The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) definition of disability is different from other programs through your employer or private insurance. The SSA pays only for total disability. There are no payable benefits for partial disability or short-term disability and medical proof is needed to show your inability to work.

To qualify for SSDI and be considered disabled by the SSA, you must:

  • Be between 21 and full retirement age

  • Have worked at least five of the last 10 years and paid FICA taxes during that time

  • Be unable to work in any capacity because of a mental or physical impairment that’s expected to last at least 12 months or result in death

  • Be under the care of a healthcare professional who can confirm severity of medical condition(s)

SSDI Fast Facts

Year Established

Number Of SSA 

Social Security Disability Insurance Backlog

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4


Average SSDI Wait Time
 Across All Levels

Average Monthly SSDI

An Increasing SSDI Backlog

Only a small percentage of the American population with disabilities will qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance: more than 2 million people apply annually, but many are denied benefits.

A number of factors have added to the large backlog in the processing of SSDI applications:

  • Aging adults: the average age among SSDI recipients is 53.9

  • New types of disabilities and conditions have been acknowledged by the SSA, increasing the number of people who qualify

  • SSA employees are retiring in large numbers and are not being replaced due to federal funding shortfalls

The result is that both receiving and administering Social Security benefits has become extremely difficult for those who need SSDI benefits and for the SSA.

Currently, more than 1,000,000 people are backlogged at the SSDI hearing level alone. Though the SSA is working hard to cut through the backlog, improve its methods and add staff, those with disabilities will continue to face a complex and intimidating process and long delays in getting SSDI, especially without help.

To see the average wait time in your area, check out the disability backlog in your home state.

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Do You Speak SSDI?

The world of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) has a language all its own. Our glossary helps you translate the alphabet soup of initials and fully understand key government agency terms. Don’t be surprised if you use this reference before, during and after you apply for Social Security disability.

See SSDI Terms Glossary

Ready for True Help with SSDI?

empower is a personalized online tool that guides you through the SSDI application process and can help you use these benefits to return to work, if and when you medically recover. Get started by taking our free SSDI Assessment to determine your likelihood of qualifying.

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