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Disability claims ease as the economy heals

The number of U.S. workers filing long-term disability claims declined for the first time in at least four years in 2012 amid an improving economy and employment picture.

About 662,000 workers filed claims, a 2 percent decline from a year earlier, the Council for Disability Awareness said in a report based on data from 2008 through 2012. Still, total claims payments grew to $9.4 billion in 2012, the fifth straight year of increases, the CDA said in its report released Tuesday.

“Claims are improving,” CDA president Barry Lundquist said. “Consumer confidence levels are higher. The employment rate is improving.

“People have better opportunities to go back to work, and that’s an important part of the services insurance companies help provide.”

The unemployment rate hit a four-year low of 7.5 percent in April before rising to 7.6 percent last month. Household wealth jumped to a record in the first quarter, exceeding its pre-recession peak for the first time, the Federal Reserve said June 6.

Workers 50 and older have filed most of the new claims as the population ages, the council said in its report. Lundquist said insurers’ back-to-work efforts and employers’ wellness programs are helping workers return to the job faster.

“The longer you’re away, the harder it is to get back physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s a way-overlooked side benefit to disability insurance.”

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