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“Social Security’s disability program is a political quagmire – and a metaphor for why federal spending and budget deficits are so difficult to control,” writes Robert J. Samuelson in a recent Washington Post opinion piece. According to facts he credits to economist David Autor, disability spending has increased at a 5.6% annual rate during the past two decades, compared with 2.2% for the rest of Social Security.
“The disability program, Autor writes, is a ‘central component of the U.S. social safety net’ but doesn’t help “workers with less severe disabilities’ to stay in the labor force (By law, recipients can’t be employed because disability is defined as the inability to work.) This means Social Security collides with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which aimed to keep the disabled in jobs.
“Guess which prevails. One program, Social Security, pays the disabled not to work; the other, the ADA, simply encourages their work. Money wins. In 1988, 4% of men and 2% of women aged 40 to 59 received disability benefits. By 2008, the men’s rate was almost 6% and the women’s, 5%.
“Autor attributes disability’s expansion mainly to liberalized, more subjective eligibility rules and to a deteriorating job market for less-educated workers. Through the 1970s, strokes, heart attacks and cancer were major causes. Now, mental problems (depression, personality disorder) and musculoskeletal ailments (back pain, joint stress) dominate (54% of awards in 2009, nearly double 1981’s 28%). The paradox is plain. As physically grueling construction and factory jobs have shrunk, disability awards have gone up.”
You can read the rest at The Washington Post website.