Rise and Fall in Cases Pending an Administrative Law Judge Hearing: New Actuarial Study

May 24, 2018 • By

Last Updated: May 24, 2018

laptop and a judge gavelThe “great recession” that began at the end of 2007 contributed to a rise in initial applications for Social Security disability benefits that peaked in 2010. This surge in initial applications led to a similar rise in appeals for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Because the surge in appeals for a hearing exceeded the capacity to complete hearings quickly, the number of cases that had appealed but were still pending an ALJ determination rose. In fact, the number of disability applicants with an ALJ hearing pending rose up to the end of 2016. However, with the improving economy, declining appeals, hiring more judges, additional funding provided by the Congress to address the hearings backlog in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, and implementation of the Compassionate and Responsive Service (CARES) plan, the number of cases pending an ALJ hearing declined in 2017, and is continuing to decline today.

As the number of claimants pending an ALJ determination rose through 2016, so too did the number of these applicants who died while waiting rise. But with the number of applicants pending a hearing declining in 2017, so too did the number who died while waiting begin to drop. With continued low unemployment, and declining numbers of applicants and appeals to ALJs, we expect the numbers of applicants pending a hearing will continue to drop, as will the number of deaths among those waiting for an ALJ hearing.

In Actuarial Note 159, “Probability of Death While Pending an Administrative Law Judge Determination,” that we are releasing today, we provide the number of applicants pending an ALJ determination and the number of these individuals who died while waiting for each year 2006 through 2017. We also provide the death rate among those pending an ALJ determination on an age-sex adjusted basis, and show that this death rate has changed little, declining slightly over these years.

Finally, we compare the death rate among disability applicants pending an ALJ determination to the death rate of individuals at the same age and sex in the general population, and to the death rate of those individuals who have been determined to be disabled and are in their first 2 years of benefit entitlement. As a consequence of the strict requirements for severe medically determinable impairments, applicants for Social Security disability benefits tend to have higher death rates than the average persons in our population at the same age and sex. While the death rate for applicants pending an ALJ determination is two to three times as high as that for the general population, it is only about one-fourth as high as the death rate for workers who have been awarded disabled worker benefits, in their first two years of benefit entitlement.

Social Security’s Office of the Chief Actuary evaluates trends in demographic, economic, and programmatic experience, including mortality rates, and publishes a variety of regular reports and special studies. The main Social Security Administration website provides links to information about Social Security’s disability benefits programs, including a wealth of information to help you secure today and tomorrow.

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About the Author

Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary


  1. ranjan

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  3. David D.

    First of all thank u for ur valuable time.I will try to make this comment short and to the point.For I can only imagine how busy u r.I first applied for SSDI in November of 2011.Unfortantly I was denied in Feb of 2015 After submitting over 1200 pages of medical evidence.I reapplied in May of 2015.And I still am waiting for a court date.Since 2011 .I have had 3 heart attacks and I also suffer from Spinal stenosis and discs problems,Neuropathy,and some mental issues.That r all documented.I have been homeless since 2012 and have lived on 221.00 And 192.00 since I have applied back in 2011.I have at least 1 of the qualifying impairments under SSA.Which is Ishemic heart disease as well as Coronary heart disease.Sir I implore you if there is anything that can be done to speed up my application it would be greatly appreciated.Once again thank you for your valuable time.And may the LORD bless u and ur family. Regards Mr.David Delgado

  4. tony

    The increase in disability application is due in part to the extension of unemployment benefits. They could collect unemployment and wait longer to get approved by the SSA. If they couldn’t collect unemployment, then they would be forced to go back to work.

    The longer they are out of the workforce, the less likely they will want to reenter the workforce.

    The lazy person trying to collect unemployment for the maximum amount of time will be looking to social security disability.

  5. Lesly F.

    Only thing i’m hoping is to get positive result trough my hearing.

  6. John H.

    How many Social Security Retires receive early retirement benefits ? How many Social Security Retires receive normal / full retirement benefits ? How many Social Security Retires receive maximum benefits ?

  7. Jerry K.

    I am curious, I waited over a year before I was accepted for Social Security Benefits despite have not only a doctors letter of disability, but medical papers of having several birth defects ranging from retinal fibroplasia from being born and placed in a full oxygen incubator for six months, taken out and my eyesight was almost lost. My left hand is deformed from the premature birth.
    13 years ago I applied for disability, waited 1 year and 2 months before I was accepted for social security.
    My sister applied for social security and got a check within 2 weeks AND THEY BACKDATED IT.

    What happened to me?

  8. Ivan R.

    My account

  9. Dr R.

    Whomever is writing your copy should go back to college and retake English composition and technical writhing. The grammar and syntax in this article are atrocious. Please start to hire folks with some competencies in area of their assignment. Did no one proof this article for editing ?
    Another beleaguered tax payer!!

  10. Brian M.

    You pay Into this system just in case something goes wrong and when it does these judges who have no idea, no sympathy and are corrupt make the decision on your life, what a scam run by unqualified cruel people, they put out all of this info about people scamming to get their own money, the sheeple believe it, make you ashamed to be suffering, tell you to find work, when it’s impossible, our own country steals from us ?

    • Alexandria S.

      Document those names, run your own campaign to get them OFF the BENCH PLEASE

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