The Social Security Administration is beginning a nationwide study to determine the needs of America's 6.6 million disabled workers and has chosen Carroll County as one of the first places in the country it will examine.
The study will also help to predict the number of people who will become eligible for benefits, especially as baby boomers reach their 50s.
"We know the requirements and how many are collecting benefits now," said Linda Benson, public affairs specialist at Social Security's Baltimore office. "But, we don't know such things as why some disabled people are able to return to work. Through the survey, we may find working people with disabilities who have never filed for benefits."
Social Security, which has its headquarters in Baltimore County, wanted a geographic cross-section for its study and included cities, suburban counties and rural areas. Carroll matched the profile of a rapidly growing metropolitan county with a large work force. The study will center on Eldersburg in the southern part of the county.
Social Security provides disability protection for 154 million workers. About 70 percent of the nation's work force has no private long-term disability insurance.
Disabilities increase as the population ages, with the most noticeable increases among those in their 50s, an age bracket that many baby boomers are reaching, Benson said.
For the past few weeks, a consulting company has conducted random telephone and mail surveys in Carroll to select participants in the study, which will focus on those ages 18 through 69.
Participation in the study is voluntary. Bill Bates, Carroll's benefits administrator, said he hopes people will recognize the calls and letters "as a legitimate survey that people should consider volunteering for."
"They are hoping for a number of volunteers so they can get a good, statistical survey," he said.
Those chosen will be interviewed about their work histories, health status and medical histories. About half of those interviewed will receive free study-related medical examinations at a mobile clinic, which will visit Eldersburg tomorrow.
Nationwide, the administration expects to offer medical evaluations to about 5,500 people.
The administration offers incentives such as a nine-month trial period with full benefits to disabled people who want to return to work.
The mobile clinic, housed in a 53-foot converted tractor-trailer truck, will arrive at 3 p.m. at Carrolltown Center on Route 26.
Although the project will probably have no effect on the daily workings of the county, it could have long-term benefits, Bates said.
In Carroll, 1,570 of the approximately 154,000 residents receive monthly disability payments that average $797.
Information: 410-848-6212 or 800-918-6370.