Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On disability

Most of the headlines on deficit/debt issues focus on Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare.  In the last ten years, Social Security's disability program has been getting increased attention.  In yesterday's WP, columnist Robert Samuelson laid out the basic facts:
In 2010, Social Security's disability program cost $124 billion plus another $59 billion for Medicare (after two years, disability recipients automatically qualify for Medicare). This exceeded $1,500 for every U.S. household. For the past two decades, disability spending has increased at a 5.6 percent annual rate, compared with 2.2 percent for the rest of Social Security. As a result, disability represents nearly one in five dollars of Social Security spending, up from one in 10 in 1988.
The irony is that fewer and fewer jobs are in sectors with high rates of injury or occupational disease such as agriculture, mining, construction and manufacturing.  So why are disability rates soaring?  MIT economist David Autor isolates two causes: the overall labor market has been crummy and the eligibility criteria for disability have been widened to include mental problems.   Disability eligibility is all or nothing; once certified as disabled, a person cannot work.  Hence rising joblessness and additional strain on federal budgets.  Don't expect any changes in this program this year. 

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