Study: Contingent workers less likely to seek disability benefits

Contingent workers make up an ever-increasing portion of the American workforce. These include independent contractors with advanced degrees who work for a variety of clients over their career rather than as an employee with one company. They also include people who make their living in the "gig" economy -- driving for Uber and Lyft, delivering for GrubHub and DoorDash or doing odd jobs through TaskRabbit and Takl.

It might seem logical that when these workers suffer an illness or injury that keeps them from working, they'd be quick to seek Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. After all, they have no "sick days" or employer-provided disability insurance.

However, a recent study by Boston College's Center for Retirement Research (CRR) found that older contingent workers who don't yet qualify for Medicare and full Social Security retirement benefits (specifically those in the 50 through early 60s age range) are far less likely to apply for SSDI benefits than their contemporaries who are employed in "traditional" jobs.

One of the study's co-authors admits that they were surprised by the findings. He says, "If they're not feeling very well-attached to the labor force, if anything, you might expect them to apply for SSDI more often just as a way to try to make ends meet." However, people who work full-time for an employer are more likely to be encouraged to apply for benefits by their human resources departments and their manager.

Not only are contingent workers less likely to seek SSDI benefits, but they're one-third less likely to receive them than people who've never been contingent workers. They also receive -- on average -- $150 less in monthly benefits. That's in part because they earn less money throughout their working years than people in traditional jobs.

If you're an independent contractor or another type of contingent worker who has suffered an injury or illness (whether physical or mental) that prevents you from earning a living, it's essential to know what your options are receiving compensation that can help you take care of yourself and your family and to get the benefits to which you're entitled. An attorney who is experienced in helping people seek Social Security Disability benefits may be able to help.

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