PROJECTSocial Security for Tomorrow’s Workforce


A new initiative to address Social Security’s current and future challenges

People walking in the city 

Social Security’s challenges are widely acknowledged, and pressure for reform is growing. Bipartisan commissions have laid the groundwork for compromise in many areas of Social Security reform, but thorny issues remain, particularly around the Disability Insurance program. These policy gaps could stall reform efforts and result in missed opportunities to update the program to reflect the latest trends in life expectancy, disability patterns, and income inequality.

Analyzing Social Security’s toughest policy questions

Through the Social Security for Tomorrow’s Workforce project, the Urban Institute will build an evidence base to inform efforts to reform Social Security’s critical programs, focusing on key unresolved issues. Researchers will investigate Social Security’s current and future challenges to develop policy recommendations, emphasizing interactions between Social Security disability programs and retirement, paid family and medical leave, and public pension policies.

Initially, the project will focus on reframing the debate on disability policy to focus more on expanding the use of evidence-based early intervention strategies that support workers at risk of dropping out of the labor force because of a newly acquired health condition or injury. Growing bipartisan interest in a national paid family and medical leave policy could provide an avenue for better targeting newly at-risk workers and improving labor force participation among people with disabilities.

The initiative will also look at concerns about workers with health limitations approaching retirement age. New ideas and analysis are needed to determine the best retirement policy for these workers in the context of broader changes to Social Security.

The initiative will also explore the potential to expand who is covered by Social Security to make it a truly universal program, covering the millions of state and local workers who are currently not protected.

What the project will entail

This new project will clarify key issues and policy options for Social Security programs through convenings, issue briefs, and analysis. The project team will seek input from decisionmakers, experts, and stakeholders over this multiyear project.

With generous support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Social Security for Tomorrow’s Workforce will draw on the Urban Institute’s existing retirement policy research and analytical resources.

The initiative is led by Jack Smalligan, an Urban Institute senior policy fellow with nearly three decades of experience at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Chantel Boyens, a principal policy associate at Urban, also formerly of OMB. They bring expertise and perspectives on Social Security retirement and disability policy informed by experience preparing analysis and policy options for White House policymakers across several administrations.

Policy Briefs

Paid medical leave research: What we know and what we need to know to improve health and economic well-being in the United States
A New Approach to Examining Disability
Recent Changes in Pension Benefits for State and Local Workers Not Covered by Social Security
How Work-Limiting Health Shocks Affect Employment and Income
Social Security's Earliest Eligibility Age
Improving the Social Security Disability Determination Process
Improving the Supplemental Security Income Program for Adults with Disabilities
A Stronger Social Security Disability Insurance Program Opens the Door for Early Intervention
Expanding Early Intervention for Newly III and Injured Workers and Connections to Paid Leave
Supporting Employment for Newly Ill and Injured Workers
Reforming the Social Security WEP Exposes Weaknesses in State and Local Pensions

Blog Posts

How Paid Medical Leave Can Support Worker Health and Economic Security
Expanding Paid Sick Leave Could Help Combat the Coronavirus and Support Workers’ Economic Stability
Treasury Should Use the Federal Prepaid Debit Card Program to Distribute Relief Payments to the Unbanked
Innovative Analytics Could Inform Efforts to Help Workers with Disabilities Stay Employed
Many Workers Who Experience a New Health Shock Leave the Workforce and Receive No Income Support
If the Early Retirement Age Changes, At-Risk Older Workers Will Need More Support
A New Strategy for Improving Social Security’s Disability Determination Process
What Conventional Approaches to Fixing Social Security Are Missing
States are testing innovative strategies to help at-risk workers stay employed
Most employers don’t help workers stay employed after illness or injury. Early intervention can help.
With Social Security Disability Insurance in a stronger position, reforms should turn to early intervention

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Research Areas Aging and retirement
Tags Job training
Policy Centers Income and Benefits Policy Center