Even before John posted about Americans over 50 who may never be allowed paid employment again, I had tagged a couple of articles about one all-American non-solution. From the Washington Post, “Jobless are straining Social Security’s disability benefits program“:
The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked with the nation’s economic problems, heightening concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled.
Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, to 2.8 million, from 2008 to 2009, as the economy was seriously faltering. The growth is the sharpest in the 54-year history of the program. It threatens the program’s fiscal stability and adds to an administrative backlog that is slowing the flow of benefits to those who need them most. Moreover, about 8 million workers were receiving disability benefits in June, an increase of 12.6 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to Social Security Administration statistics.
Though policymakers anticipated the program’s rolls growing with the aging of the baby-boom population, they suspect the current surge has less to do with any worsening in the health of the workforce than with the poor health of the economy. About half of all applicants eventually make it onto the disability rolls – a percentage that has not changed appreciably with the recent spike in applications, Social Security officials say. The average age of new recipients is 49 – and less than 1 percent of them return to work, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
In bad times, the disability rolls are swollen by “a lot of older workers who are very much on the margins. Often, they are the first people laid off,” Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said. “They can’t find any new work and they are desperate. So they have every incentive to try and get in the program.”
“A lot of people come to me when their unemployment benefits run out and they have no where else to turn,” said Paul W. Nolan, a Baltimore lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability cases. “Many of them are on the border. Maybe in their last job, people were willing to work around their disability. But the economy is less forgiving of disabilities during a recession than when times are good.”
James Ledbetter at Slate is appalled by the aging slackers abusing “America’s Hidden Welfare Program“:
Throughout the year, economists and both houses of Congress have debated whether to extend unemployment insurance for another 13 weeks, or 26 weeks, worried that the payments would bloat the deficit or, worse, actually cause people to stay jobless. All along, however, millions of Americans without work have quietly continued to cash a federal check every month. They don’t show up in the unemployment statistics—not even as “discouraged” workers—and their benefits won’t stop after 99 weeks.
They are the recipients of Social Security’s Disability Insurance, a somewhat obscure federal program that nonetheless eats up nearly $200 billion a year… more than 8 million ex-workers, plus another million disabled adult offspring and disabled widows and widowers.
With the annual commitments now at about $180 billion, SSDI represents, as the authors of a 2006 economics journal paper put it, a “fiscal crisis.” Equally distressing, it also represents public policy run amok. Over the last few decades, a program that was designed to help a relatively small group of people who were fatally sick or permanently unable to work has evolved into a backdoor welfare program in which a huge number of people are paid not to get jobs. How huge? Nationwide, we’re talking about well over 4 percent of the adult population. In some states—Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, and West Virginia—the rate exceeds 6 percent. These millions of workers extricated from payrolls represent untold lost billions in tax revenues and all manner of desperately needed economic activity (consumption, home purchases, etc.)…
The NYTimes, on the other hand, blandly reported that “Retiring Later Is Hard Road for Laborers“:
“… A new analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that one in three workers over age 58 does a physically demanding job… — including hammering nails, bending under sinks, lifting baggage — that can be radically different at age 69 than at age 62. Still others work under difficult conditions, like exposure to heat or cold, exposure to contaminants or weather, cramped workplaces or standing for long stretches. In all, the researchers found that 45 percent of older workers, or 8.5 million, held such difficult jobs. For janitors, nurses’ aides, plumbers, cashiers, waiters, cooks, carpenters, maintenance workers and others, raising the retirement age may mean squeezing more out of a declining body…. “
So, let’s drop the mealy-mouthed charades for a minute and get blunt: “We” — the tiny percentage of people at the top of the American income pyramid and the millions of its enablers — are breaking people at an increased and ever-expanding rate. The backdoor programs cobbled together to keep these broken people out of public perception are being strained past the point where Very Serious Economists are comfortable. And therefore “we” need to… further cut back Social Security eligibility, “force” people to stay in the jobs they don’t have, presumably until everyone below boardroom level drops dead 20 minutes before shift-end, so they can be recycled expeditiously with the rest of the day’s garbage.
Since providing even the most minimal raggedy social safety net is un-American socialism, I guess it may come down to a choice between a good murderous pandemic influenza, like the 1918 version that tended to kill previously healthy young adults, or soylent green.