Advocacy

Is Disability the New Welfare?

from Townhall – by Jonah Goldberg

The government in Britain recently did something interesting.

It asked everyone receiving an “incapacity benefit” — a disability program slowly being phased out under new reforms — to submit to a medical test to confirm they were too disabled to work. A third of recipients (878,000 people) didn’t even bother and dropped out of the program rather than be examined. Of those tested, more than half (55 percent) were found fit for work, and a quarter were found fit for some work.

But that’s Britain, where there’s a long tradition of gaming the dole. Americans would never think of taking advantage of the taxpayers or misleading the government. Well, except for the couple dozen people who have pleaded guilty to scamming the Long Island Rail Road’s federal disability system in a $1 billion fraud scheme. A billion bucks would pay for a lot of White House tours.

Though hardly isolated, the LIRR scandal is an obvious black-and-white case of criminality. The real problem resides in a grayer area.

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65 percent of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America, that number has grown nearly nine-fold to 5.6 percent.

In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

Some defenders of the status quo say these numbers can be explained by the entry of women into the U.S. workforce, the aging of baby boomers and the short-term spike in need that came with the recession.

No doubt those are significant factors. But not nearly so significant as to explain why the number of people on disability has been doubling every 15 years (while the average age of recipients has gone down) or why such a huge proportion of claim injuries can’t be corroborated by a doctor.

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health notes in his recent book “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic” that 29 percent of the 8.6 million Americans who received Social Security disability benefits at the end of 2011 cited injuries involving the “musculoskeletal system and the connective tissue.” Fifteen percent claimed “mood disorders.”

It’s almost impossible, Eberstadt writes, “for a medical professional to disprove a patient’s claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain.” And that’s assuming a doctor wants to disprove the claim.

In an illuminating and predictably controversial expos for “This American Life,” NPR’s “Planet Money” team tried to figure out why, since 2009, nearly 250,000 people have been applying for disability every month (while we’ve averaged only 150,000 new jobs every month).

The answers fall on both sides of the gray middle.

One factor has to do with what correspondent Chana Joffe-Walt calls the “Vast Disability Industrial Complex.” These are the sometimes shady, sometimes well-intentioned lawyers who fight to fatten the rolls of disability recipients. These lawyers get a cut of every winning claimant’s “back pay.” The more clients, the bigger the take. That’s why they run ads on TV shouting, “Disabled? Get the money you deserve!”

Then there are the doctors. Joffe-Walt profiles one rural Alabama doctor who signs off on disabilities for pretty much anyone lacking a good education on the assumption their employment prospects are grim.

That points to the even bigger parts of the story. As the nature of the economy changes, disability programs are sometimes taking the place of welfare for those who feel locked out of the workforce — and state governments are loving it. States pay for welfare, the feds pay for disabilities.

There are those who are quick to argue that this is all bogus, there’s nothing amiss with the disability system that greater funding and a better economy won’t fix. Maybe they’re right. One way to find out would be to ask every recipient to get a thorough examination, just as they did in Britain. Maybe the results here in the United States would be interesting too.


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R Far
9 years ago

I personally know of several people that get disablity because they are addicted to pain pills from the docs because they complain of back problems. We need to have connected tracking of these docs writing these scripts and the addicts doc shopping. Makes me sick to think about!

JeanP
9 years ago

A great many people who are on disability could work at SOMETHING. Some of them don’t want to have to get up every day and go to work like the rest of us, and feel no shame in letting the taxpayer support them. These people also qualify for food stamps, medicaid, subsidized housing, free school lunches for their kids, etc.— more tax dollars. Same thing happened with the unemployment benefits extensions. Many people, as long as they got that unemployment check, did not seriously seek work, or wouldn’t take a job they thought was beneath them. Only when the benefits were about to run out and they had no other options, did they get a job. Saw it happen.

JDV
9 years ago
Reply to  JeanP

I WANT to work! I am on disability due to severe health problems, Cancer, being the most recent!

chuck
9 years ago

I personally know lots of people who claim disability, who are living better than me! At 68 my health is failing, but I still work, (not office work) my customers are my friends, most also ooold. and still supporting families, I’m keeping old obsolete equipment running even as the manufactures are out of business. There is not enough business for my customers to make payments on new equipment, but they are supporting their families too. No longer 20 employees, just them and their brother-in-law or grown children. It is scary how many American companies have gone out of business. I make a lot of my own parts, All of US are the old generation and would be embarrassed to take welfare or fake disability! But…the problem is this new generation feels entitled to be supported by those of us who do work! They don’t feel any stigma attached to “welfare” and certain minorities have been told they are entitled to a free ride. The communists have done a good job indoctrinating our young, but they havn’t taught them what happens AFTER they convert America to a communist country. There NO welfare bums in communist countries!

Gene Roberts
9 years ago

I AGREE WITH EVERYTHING SAID HERE AND WOULD ADD THERE ARE NO GUTS OR PRIDE IN MOST AMERICAN WORKERS ANYMORE. IT SEEMS AS IF THE YOUNGER THEY ARE THE MORE THEY FEEL SOMEONE OWES THEM A LIVING.

PaulE
9 years ago

As more and more people give up on finding meaningful, full-time employment, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot filing for Social Security Disability. At least that would be my guess based on the massive numbers of new people applying for the program over the last few years. I’m sure doctors are suddenly getting a lot of patients suddenly complaining of mysterious back problems or some other hard to disprove medical condition. After all, all these millions of people that have dropped out of the labor force still have to eat and keep a roof over their heads and the Obama administration does nothing to reign in abuse of the system. If anything, he probably feels all these new federal dependents will be loyal Democrat voters in future elections.

It truly is sad what has happened to this country.

Barbara
9 years ago

Completely agree. The hardest part would be to get the docs to do it–knowing there would still be quite a few who would verify disability for a little “under the table” cash. Plus, our ever PC Congress would never ok such an idea for fear of being labeled discriminatory against the disabled. Too bad, as it would save billions.

Nathan
9 years ago

Melvin, is absolutely right!!!

Nathan
9 years ago

Test away!!!!

Doris Gaub
9 years ago

I agree! I used to work at a clinic that did disability physicals. I could see the reflection of the parking lot through a mirror on the wall. I would see people getting out of their car, walk around to the trunk, drop their keys, bend over to pick them up, unlock the trunk to get their walker out and then come into the office barely able to walk. I think the exams should be more thorough than what they are now. I still see a lot of people that I know get disability out doing things that their “DISABILITY” prevents them from doing.

PaulE
9 years ago

To answer the question posed by the title of the article, yes unfortunately disability is rapidly becoming welfare. As we adopt more and more the socialist policies of the southern European nations, all part of the “transformation” process, our society will begin to look just like theirs. Over there, in many of the countries, they refer to government disability payments as “pensions” and a person can qualify, if you want to call it that, for more than one.

Melvin Cleveland
9 years ago

I completely agree.Everyone getting disability should have to get a thorough exam by a team
of specially trained doctors and nurses to cover the areas of disability benefits.Also,anyone applying
for food stamps or public assistance such welfare checks or medicare/medicaid should be drug tested
and citizenship verified.I am a veteran of the U.S.Army and this is no longer the country I defended and
fought for in VietNam.

PaulE
9 years ago

To answer your question, yes of course disability is the new welfare. It’s all part of the transforming of America. Rather than have government institute pro-growth economic policies, that would lead to more job creation and wealth creation, the socialist model is to create more government dependency.

As the United States adopts more and more of the policies of southern European socialism, our society will begin to mirror more and more of what their societies look like. Is this good for America? No, of course not. Our country will ultimately implode economically, much like those of the southern Europeans. We just have four or five years before that happens, so our politicians are all saying we face no “immediate” danger. Having the public wake up a week before the system collapses will be way too late, but then the politicians can drop the use of the word immediate. :-)

PaulE
9 years ago

To answer your question, yes of course disability is the new welfare. It’s all part of the transforming of America. Rather than have government institute pro-growth economic policies, that would lead to more job creation and wealth creation, the socialist model is to create more government dependency.

As the United States adopts more and more of the policies of southern European socialism, our society will begin to mirror more and more of what their societies look like. Is this good for America? No, of course not. Our country will ultimately implode economically, much like those of the southern Europeans. We just have four or five years before that happens, so our politicians are all saying we face no “immediate” danger. Having the public wake up a week before the system collapses will be way too late, but then the politicians can drop the use of the word immediate.

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