Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Disability Scam That Isn't

There's a (mostly conservative) meme out there that 1) there's record numbers of people claiming disability, and 2) most of those people must be lazy scammers.

Of course there's a record number of people claiming disability: our population gets larger every day, and we add disabled people at roughly the same rate.

So point # 1 falls into the useless and misleading record category, much as the many records (e.g., number of breakfasts I've eaten in my lifetime) I've already set this morning.

But, what about point # 2?

There is a serious problem with disability funding. This comes out of the Social Security Administration, and the money they "set aside" for this is "going to run out". I've put those in quotes because that isn't actually what's going to happen; but there is a lack of political will to allocate more money to this without some pointless grandstanding.

So, here's two facts to think about.
... 5.6% of Americans ages 35-44 reported having a work-limiting disability in 1984, while in 2014 that figure was 5.4%.
... The percentage of the working-age population collecting disability insurance benefits has more than doubled to 5.7% in 2014 from 2.7% in 1984. 
Those statistics don't match up perfectly, but they're pretty close. How is that possible? Let's slice and dice the information and restate it this way:

  • In 2014, 5.4% reported having a disability and 5.7% received benefits.
  • In 1984, 5.6% reported having a disability and 2.7% received benefits.
This sounds like we're a lot better at giving benefits to people who say they need them (but there isn't much change in people saying they need them).

That sounds like government doing it's social welfare job ... you know ... outreach to people who need help. 

Gee ... government doing its job ... that's not the tone of that conservative meme at all.

And just what happened to all those people in 1984 who said they were disabled but didn't get benefits? No doubt, some of them worked. But presumably that wasn't always a good thing. And then I think a lot of them sat around the house, supported by their families, who weren't supported by the rest of society. 

When you put it that way, it sounds like in the good old days ... we were jerks to each other.

Read the whole thing, entitled "Averting the Disability-Insurance Meltdown" in the February 23 issue of The Wall Street Journal. The author works for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank; like most conservatives he's more interested in how we pay for our government's largesse, but I don't really think he'd understate the number of disabled in a relatively conservative newspaper.

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