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Are Disability Benefits Actually Enough to Live on? 

In a new study by Atticus, Social Security disability benefits are not worth enough to cover someone’s living expenses in any state. Social Security disability benefits are available to people who can’t work because of an injury, illness, or other health condition.  In a state-by-state comparison, Atticus found there are only three states where the average disability benefit is worth enough to cover even half of the cost of living. In some areas, the average benefit covers one third or less of annual living costs.

Types of disability benefits

There are two main types of disability benefits, both managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Social Security Disability Insurance, also called SSDI, exists for people who have previously worked and paid Social Security taxes, but can no longer work because of a medical condition. Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is available to people who can’t work, have little or no work history, and have very low income. About 14.4 million Americans were beneficiaries of one or both of the programs in 2022. 

How much are disability benefits worth?

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According to data released in 2022, the average SSDI benefit for disabled workers is $1,358.30 per month. The exact value of someone’s monthly SSDI benefit depends on their work experience, but it’s possible for someone to earn up to a maximum of about $3,300 per month.

The average monthly SSI check is worth $568.13 according to SSA data. However, SSI recipients are also capped at $841 of total monthly income in 2022. So a person with no outside income could qualify for the maximum SSI benefit, but a person who earns some monthly income would have their SSI benefit reduced by the amount they earn. SSI benefits are also reduced if someone has savings or valuable assets.

Learn more about how SSDI and SSI benefits are calculated.

Does the SSA ever increase Social Security benefits?

Every year, the SSA may issue a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits, which includes SSI, SSDI, and retirement. In January 2023, the largest COLA since 1981 went into effect. Even with the 8.7% COLA increase, Social Security disability benefit recipients don’t receive enough to live comfortably in any state. 

The average annual COLA increase for 2011 to 2021 was only 2%. 

For SSDI, the amount someone is receiving will most often stay the same except for the COLA increases. Because SSI is means-based, an individual recipient’s monthly payment may increase or decrease based on changes in their household, income, or other changes that impact their finances, along with any annual COLA increases. 

Living off Social Security disability is difficult in most areas of the country, but there are some potential avenues for help. We’ve created this list of resources for people with disabilities, including places someone can reach out to for financial assistance, legal support, or help with housing and healthcare. And if you need help applying for disability benefits — whether you’ve never had them before or lost them at any point — start with our complete guide to the disability benefits application.

Where disability benefits go the farthest

Since costs of living vary across the country, we found the average SSDI benefit in each state and then compared that to the state’s cost of living. We found that SSDI benefits aren’t enough to live off in any state.

Based on data from MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, which looks at typical expenses for people living in each state, the income needed to meet the cost of living in many areas is between 2.5 and 3 times higher than the income an average SSDI recipient would earn.

In most states, someone whose sole source of income is SSDI would only earn enough to cover between 40% and 50% of living expenses. There are three states where SSDI covers at least half of someone’s living expenses, with Wyoming being the highest at about 52%. On the other end of the spectrum, there are six states where SSDI benefits would cover less than 40% of living expenses. Residents of Washington, D.C., would have the hardest time with the average SSDI benefits covering just 30% of living expenses.

Note that we looked at the living wage required for a single individual, with no children. Couples and people with children would experience higher costs of living.

States where disability benefits go the farthest

RankStateAverage annual SSDI benefitLivable wageAverage SSDI benefit as a percentage of livable wage
1Wyoming$16,388.52$31,72051.7%
2Nevada$17,160.48$33,77950.8%
3West Virginia$16,136.40$32,13650.2%
4Indiana$16,263.00$32,84349.5%
5Tennessee$15,902.64$32,13649.5%
6Kentucky$15,865.92$32,15749.3%
7South Dakota$15,185.64$30,88849.2%
8Michigan$16,617.24$34,02948.8%
9Alabama$16,006.68$33,09348.4%
10Ohio$15,644.28$32,46948.2%
11Arkansas$15,534.84$32,34448.0%
12Mississippi$15,571.92$32,57347.8%
13Oklahoma$15,638.16$32,76047.7%
14North Dakota$15,231.60$31,97047.6%
15Idaho$16,008.24$33,61347.6%
16Delaware$17,546.76$36,89947.6%
17Pennsylvania$16,391.04$34,67447.3%
18Texas$16,096.44$34,13347.2%
19Wisconsin$16,082.52$34,11247.1%
20Arizona$16,973.40$36,25446.8%
21Missouri$15,831.36$33,88346.7%
22New Hampshire$16,810.56$36,02646.7%
23Florida$16,699.08$35,85946.6%
24Kansas$15,855.36$34,07046.5%
25Alaska$16,182.96$34,77846.5%
26Louisiana$15,602.16$33,59246.4%
27Iowa$15,498.60$33,65446.1%
28Utah$16,214.64$35,31845.9%
29South Carolina$16,647.72$36,33845.8%
30North Carolina$16,310.04$35,65145.7%
31Montana$15,454.92$33,94645.5%
32New Mexico$15,366.48$33,80045.5%
33Georgia$16,335.12$36,69144.5%
34Nebraska$15,295.56$34,52844.3%
35Minnesota$16,208.52$36,89943.9%
36Illinois$16,471.68$37,77343.6%
37Rhode Island$16,062.84$37,02443.4%
38Connecticut$17,003.52$39,52043.0%
39Washington$16,458.12$38,56342.7%
40New Jersey$18,063.96$42,78642.2%
41Vermont$15,355.56$37,04541.5%
42Colorado$16,496.88$39,85341.4%
43Maryland$16,959.72$41,05941.3%
44Maine$15,299.76$37,19041.1%
45Virginia$16,453.80$40,35240.8%
46Oregon$16,065.00$40,58139.6%
47New York$16,885.80$45,73936.9%
48California$16,751.16$45,38636.9%
49Hawaii$16,798.56$45,73936.7%
50Massachusetts$16,401.00$45,51036.0%
51District of Columbia$14,512.68$48,11030.2%

Are disability benefits enough to live on?

For someone receiving Social Security disability, benefits are a vital source of income. Their monthly benefits may represent most or all of their income. However, in many places across the United States, it’s difficult or impossible to live off just disability benefits.

Someone who receives the average Social Security disability benefit ($1,358.30) for the whole year would make $16,299.60 from SSDI. That’s only slightly more than the federal minimum wage (about $15,080 annually) and it’s well below the cost of living in every state.

In fact, someone with annual income of $16,299.60 from SSDI would barely earn at the federal poverty level, which is $13,590 for an individual in 2022. (The federal poverty line in Alaska is set at $16,990 for 2022, higher than what someone with the average SSDI payment would earn.)

Can someone live on SSI benefits?

Supplemental Security Income benefits are often the primary source of income for recipients. But the strict income cap for SSI means that recipients can’t earn more than $841 of total income, including benefits and all outside income sources. For that reason we considered how far that maximum benefit would take someone instead of looking at the average benefit.

Someone earning the maximum SSI benefit for the whole year would make just $10,092, about $5,000 less than the federal minimum and well below the cost of living in every state.

Comparing the maximum SSI benefit to the cost of living in each state, SSI payments are enough to cover less than a third of living expenses. There are only 15 states where annual SSI benefits are worth at least 30% of the living wage, with South Dakota being the highest at just under 33%. Meanwhile, SSI benefits are worth less than 25% of living expenses in eight states.

States where SSI benefits go the farthest

RankStateLivable wageMaximum SSI benefit as a percentage of livable wage
1South Dakota$30,88832.7%
2Wyoming$31,72031.8%
3North Dakota$31,97031.6%
4Tennessee$32,13631.4%
4West Virginia$32,13631.4%
6Kentucky$32,15731.4%
7Arkansas$32,34431.2%
8Ohio$32,46931.1%
9Mississippi$32,57331.0%
10Oklahoma$32,76030.8%
11Indiana$32,84330.7%
12Alabama$33,09330.5%
13Louisiana$33,59230.0%
14Idaho$33,61330.0%
15Iowa$33,65430.0%
16Nevada$33,77929.9%
17New Mexico$33,80029.9%
18Missouri$33,88329.8%
19Montana$33,94629.7%
20Michigan$34,02929.7%
21Kansas$34,07029.6%
22Wisconsin$34,11229.6%
23Texas$34,13329.6%
24Nebraska$34,52829.2%
25Pennsylvania$34,67429.1%
26Alaska$34,77829.0%
27Utah$35,31828.6%
28North Carolina$35,65128.3%
29Florida$35,85928.1%
30New Hampshire$36,02628.0%
31Arizona$36,25427.8%
32South Carolina$36,33827.8%
33Georgia$36,69127.5%
34Delaware$36,89927.4%
34Minnesota$36,89927.4%
36Rhode Island$37,02427.3%
37Vermont$37,04527.2%
38Maine$37,19027.1%
39Illinois$37,77326.7%
40Washington$38,56326.2%
41Connecticut$39,52025.5%
42Colorado$39,85325.3%
43Virginia$40,35225.0%
44Oregon$40,58124.9%
45Maryland$41,05924.6%
46New Jersey$42,78623.6%
47California$45,38622.2%
48Massachusetts$45,51022.2%
49Hawaii$45,73922.1%
49New York$45,73922.1%
51District of Columbia$48,11021.0%

Atticus is an organization that helps people in crisis claim aid from government and insurance.

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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