What is the Long-Term Impact of Zebley?

Norma Coe, Boston College
Matthew S. Rutledge, Boston College

This paper evaluates the long-term impact of the 1990 Supreme Court case Sullivan vs. Zebley and the concurrent changes in the procedures for evaluating mental illness in children. This decision fundamentally changed the criteria under which children qualified for the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Instead of a pure impairment-based system, children’s eligibility became tied to school performance. Using the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), linked to administrative disability records from the Social Security Administration, we measure the impact on educational attainment, labor force participation, earnings, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and SSI receipt in adulthood. We also use state-level welfare information to construct measures of the financial gain of an SSI beneficiary, and use that as an instrument to address the self-selection issue. Determining the long-run impact of being on SSI as a child is important in determining the costs and benefits of providing this support during childhood.

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Presented in Session 198: Disability and Labor Market Outcomes