Sunday, January 20, 2013

Disability Claim Nonsense from Not Logging Data

I posted last month about how the position that disability claims are up is 1) correct only in that it states the obvious, and 2) incorrect if it suggests there is a problem.
Here we go again (from a site that advertises itself as “the right news”):
During President Barack Obama’s first term, the number of Americans collecting federal disability insurance increased by 1,385,418 to a record 8,827,795.

In the comparable period of George W. Bush’s first term—January 2001 through December 2004—the number of people taking disability went from 5,052,895 to 6,197,664, an increase: 1,144,769.
In the comparable period of George W. Bush's second term--January 2005 through December 2008--the number of people taking disability went from 6,219,666 to 7,427,203, an increase of 1,207,537.

This is exactly what you’d expect if the number of people claiming disability was experiencing compound growth. But … since we think the whole population experiences compound growth, this is exactly what we’d expect a subset of population to do too.
It gets worse. What we should be concerned about is (actual percentage) growth rates or approximate growth rates (formed by differencing logs). If we look at those, disability is up:
  • 15.7% in Obama’s first term
  • 19.4% in Bush’s second term
  • 22.7% in Bush’s first term
If you’re a conservative and/or Republican, these numbers mean this site is just pushing your buttons.
It gets even worse. The article goes on with this:
By December 2012, the latest month reported, there were 8,827,795 collecting disability, an increase of 1,385,418. With 115,868,000 people working full-time in December, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was 1 person collecting disability for every 13 people working full-time.

Forty-two years ago, in December 1968, 1,295,428 Americans collected disability and 65,630,000 worked full-time. Thus, at that time, there were about 51 Americans working full-time for each person collecting disability.

I was unable to find or duplicate most of these numbers. But I did get close. There are two problems with them.
First, disability was a new form of benefit in 1968. Almost all of the growth in disability occurred after this initial year. In short: 1968 is cherry-picked.
Second, most of the decline in the ratio noted in the article is not from increases in disability payments. Instead, it’s because of the decline of full-time workers. But, as explained in this post, this is due to the demographics of the last 15 years … rather than the Obama administration. In short: using full-time workers is cherry-picking too.
Here’s a chart I produced that’s a little more grounded in reality:


Now … this looks at employment … so it isn’t making any great claims about whether people have the job and hours they want, only that they have a job. The big dip in employment growth that occurred recently is the combination of the Great Recession, and the ongoing long-term demographic swing away from having a job at all.

The growth rates are high for disability claims in the early 1970’s – under Republican presidents Nixon and Ford. They also climbed steeply under Republican president GHW Bush, and during Clinton’s first term. Claims fell under Carter, and during Reagan’s first term. Any evidence that claims have gone up drastically under Obama is … a stretch.

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