Decades ago, the traditional family unit consisted of a husband and wife with 2.5 children. Most women were stay-at-home mothers, able to call on extended family members in case illness or injury affected their abilities to care for their children.

But these days, there is no longer a “traditional” family unit (and by extension, an extended support network), as the following figures attest:

  • In 2010, 43.6% of all U.S. residents 18 and older were unmarried—more than half of them women—while the elderly comprised 16.5% of all unmarried and single people 18 and older.
  • 45% of households nationwide were maintained by unmarried men or women, while number of single parents living with their children in 2010 reached 11.7 million. (Almost a third of grandparents are raising their grandchildren.)
  • There were 6.5 million unmarried-partner households, which included 581,300 same-sex couples.
  • Finally, the number of people who lived alone totaled 31.4 million in 2010, comprising 27% of all households—up from 17% in 1970.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you fall into one of the above categories—a single parent or grandparent raising a child, an adult living alone, or an unmarried couple—you need to do a little “worst case scenario” thinking. Specifically: should you experience an illness or injury that results in a disability (temporary or permanent), what type of impact will that have not only on your finances, but also on anyone who depends on you?

During Disability Insurance Awareness Month, educate yourself about the reality of the impact a disability can have on your budget—and your life.

Disability coverage facts
If you think you have your bases covered with health insurance, worker’s compensation or Social Security, the following information might change your mind.

  • While health insurance will cover medical-related expenses, it won’t provide an income to cover your needs if you are unable to work even for a relatively short period of time.
  • Worker’s compensation coverage only comes into play if the disability is job-related—which only happens in about 5% of the cases, according to the Council for Disability Awareness. (If you’re playing the odds, you might want to reconsider, since 30% of those entering the workforce today will be disabled for three months or more during their career, with the average long-term disability claim lasts 31.2 months.)
  • While Social Security provides coverage, qualifying for benefits can be challenging (60% are initially denied) and, at a little over $1,100 a month, the average monthly payment is barely above poverty level.

In the meantime, bills keep mounting up and your financial situation becomes even more precarious. According to one study, more than 62% of bankruptcies in 2007 were due to medical issues—a significant increase from the 2001 figure of 46.2%.

Fortunately, you do have several options to help safeguard yourself and those who depend on you. Employer-sponsored coverage (short-term disability insurance, long-term disability insurance, or both) can replace a significant percentage of your income—possibly up to 40% to 60% of your pre-tax income. (In a few states, employees can also purchase additional short-term disability coverage on their own, paid for through payroll deductions.)

If you are self-employed or want a stronger safety net, an individual disability insurance policy is the best choice. Start by calculating the amount of income you would need to maintain your current standard of living in the event you’re unable to work. Then, look at your life and work situation. Do you have children, a spouse or an elderly relative who depends on you for support? Is there a cap on the benefits available through your employer—and are you getting close to that level? Finally, has your standard of living increased or you have taken on a significant amount of new debt?

Once you have a clearer picture of your “worst case scenario,” schedule a meeting with your insurance advisor to review your disability insurance purchase options: through your employer, a professional organization or on your own. This will help you make the best decision for your budget, your future and those who are part of your “family unit.” For more disability information, visit

Jaimee Niles, VP of Communications, LIFE Foundation