Some members of Congress have begun leveling accusations that rising enrollment in Social Security's disability insurance program is evidence of growing American dependence on the government, and even a "slave" mentality.
But a new report out Monday says the rise in America's ranks of disabled to 8.3 million in 2011 stems from an aging population, a surge in women workers, changes in the law in the 1980s and a terrible economy in which disabled people can't find jobs.
The study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, found that the biggest jumps in the disabled population came from aging Baby Boomers. From 1996 through 2009 -- "the approximate period during which the baby-boom generation entered their 50s -- the share of disabled worker benefits awarded to older workers (age 45 and older) rose from 67 percent to 76 percent," the report said.
Meanwhile, the share of benefits going to younger workers -- between the ages of 25 to 44 -- fell from 31 percent to 22 percent.
"Baby boomers' aging would have boosted enrollment in the DI program even if no other factors had changed," the report said.
Add to that the fact that more women have entered the workforce since 1970, boosting the working population and creating a larger pool of people who can become disabled.
A change in the law during the Reagan administration that allowed more people with mental disabilities and musculoskeletal problems to qualify also increased the number of people on disability. In 1990, such people accounted for 38 percent of workers in the SSDI program. In 2010, the number had risen to 54 percent.
To be eligible for disability, a person must prove he or she is unable to work due to a medical condition that will last at least a year. The average monthly benefit is $1,111.