A review of 2006 long-term disability claims among the U.S. workforce released May 1, by the Council for Disability Awareness (CDA), Portland, revealed that the number of American workers experiencing a long-term disability continues to grow at a rate faster than the growth of the workforce.

CDA’s 2006 Long-Term Disability Claims Review, an annual review of long-term disability claims among the U.S. working population, determines continuing and emerging trends in long-term disability claims, as these claims have a demonstrable impact on the health and financial livelihood of America’s workforce.

According to this year’s review, more than 500,000 individuals received long-term disability insurance payments from CDA member companies in 2006, resulting in claims payments in excess of $7.2 billion – a 7.5% increase in payments made in 2005. Coupled with these private payouts, the Social Security Disability Insurance program paid 6.8 million disabled workers a total of $79.9 billion in 2006 – an 8.7% increase over payments made in 2005 and 105% more than the $39 billion provided in payments to SSDI program beneficiaries 10 years ago.

“After reviewing both public and private claims data, it is clear that America’s workers must better equip themselves to handle the possibility of a long-term disability and the financial burdens that may accompany it,” explained Robert Taylor, executive director of CDA. “This is especially true considering the continuing shift in responsibility for personal financial risks away from social programs and employers to the individual.”

Qualifying for disability benefits under the SSDI program continues to be a challenge, as only 39% of the 2.1 million workers who applied for SSDI in 2006 received approval for disability benefits. The CDA Claims Survey reported that 33%of individuals receiving private long-term disability insurance did not qualify for SSDI assistance and 95% of claims were not job-related.

These findings are particularly noteworthy for female workers, as the rate of disability is growing faster for them than for their male counterparts, according to SSDI program data. During the past 10 years, the number of women covered under SSDI has grown from 16% to 47% of all covered workers, and the rate of disability for women workers has grown more than 60% – compared to only a 32% growth rate for males.

According to the review, the leading cause of long-term disability insurance claims continues to be musculoskeletal/connective tissue disorders – accounting for almost one-quarter of all new claims. Cancer and cardiovascular/circulatory problems remained the second and third most common causes of new disability claims. Accidents and injuries, often thought to be a major cause of claims, accounted for less that 8% of new long-term disabilities last year.

“CDA and its members are working hard to initiate a public dialogue that will increase disability awareness,” Taylor explained. “By informing American workers about causes of and trends in disability, we believe we can help increase their chances for financial security in the event a long-term disability strikes.”