Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise Of Disability In America

Source: Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR, March 2013

The story of disability is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy….

…In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

In other words, people on disability don’t show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs — who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that — is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

For the past six months, I’ve been reporting on the growth of federal disability programs. I’ve been trying to understand what disability means for American workers, and, more broadly, what it means for poor people in America nearly 20 years after we ended welfare as we knew it. Here’s what I found…
See also:
Sorry Ira: There are Factual Errors in Your Story on Disability Insurance
Source: Shawn Fremstad, Center for Economic and Policy Research, CEPR blog, March 27, 2013

…I won’t take on the entire story here, but I want to note one quite clear-cut and basic factual error. In the story, reporter Chana Joffe-Walt unequivocally states: “People on federal disability do not work.” This is factually incorrect. According to researchers at Mathematica and SSA, about 17 percent of disability beneficiaries worked in 2007. Their earnings were generally very low (about 4.8 percent had annual earnings of $1,000 or less), but that doesn’t justify the reporter’s unequivocal characterization of all disability beneficiaries as non-workers….

This Is What Happens When You Rip a Hole in the Safety Net
Source: Bryce Covert, Nation, March 28, 2013

TANF and SSI: The Rest of the Story
Source: Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), 2013