Unemployment Insurance and Disability Applications

by on February 22, 2012 at 7:12 am in Data Source, Economics, Medicine | Permalink

More than 8.5 million workers are now collecting disability insurance, in other words almost 6% of the labor force is officially disabled. Perhaps not surprisingly, disability applications shot up just as unemployment benefits started to exhaust.

Applications are often denied so disability beneficiaries do not follow applications immediately. Denied applicants, however, often contest and apply again so eventually 50-60% of those who apply will typically enter the disability rolls and start to collect. Far fewer will ever exit the rolls, at least not by way of a job.

Since 1995 the number of disabled workers has doubled and expenditures have increased even faster than disabled workers, tripling since 1995. The increase in workers receiving disability insurance has come at the same time as the US working age population has become healthier. A large fraction of the increase in disability has come from increases in hard-to-verify back pain and mental problems (see Autor and Duggan and more recently Autor).

After the 2001 recession, disability applications also shot up and they never fell back to their old levels. We may be reaching a new, permanently higher, plateau.

Disabled workers do not count as unemployed, they have been bought out of the labor force.

The conservative critique of unemployment insurance used to be that it discouraged people from looking for work. The modern conservative response may be that it encourages people to not become disabled.

Doc Merlin February 22, 2012 at 7:29 am

Disability is quickly becoming a modern form of the old-style permanent unemployment insurance.

Bill February 22, 2012 at 10:55 am

No, it is becoming a substitute for welfare programs that were eliminated in the 90’s.

Only difference is:

There is a cap on my contribution to it if I have earned income above the Social Security cutoff.

Don’t you like how we’ve shifted welfare costs to the middle class.

Yeah for the 1%.

Bill February 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Note that disability claims have tripled since 1995.

What occured in 1995? Any guess?

Welfare reform.

FYI February 22, 2012 at 1:12 pm

And what does that tell you? that we shouldn’t have reformed welfare?

When you plug a hole others might pop. We got to plug them all.

Bill February 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm

No, we shifted the costs of whatever hole that opens up to those making less than $106k and threatened SSecurity.

The top 1% aren’t paying for that pothole.

Cliff February 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Bill,

I agree, disability insurance should not be a part of Social Security. Get rid of it.

FYI February 22, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Bill

What in the world are you talking about? We shifted the cost from one tax to another. The point is that these people should not be getting any money from government. We don’t need a new tax to cover this cost, we need to stop funding this via government.

Bill February 22, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Cliff, Disability should be uncapped beyond $106k to deal with the shift of disability claims (before welfare reform) to its substitute for welfare.

FYI, The problem is that there were, and are, people who are mentally disabled and who did receive welfare before. Disability and welfare coexisted. When you cut one, they just shift to another program, often with the aid of the states which now have an incentive to transfer them to disability because welfare is on their nickel.

FYI February 22, 2012 at 11:37 pm

Bill,

I am all for a program that helps the truly disabled. But it is simply impossible that we have millions of people who suddenly become disabled because they lost their jobs.

Same thing with all other government programs. We should have social security, medicare and all the rest only for the truly poor. And these programs should be bare bones so people who have the mental/physical means will choose to not use them. There is no other way to control this beast called government. Look at Europe. Who do you think will suffer the most with all these reforms?

It will not be the rich.

delirious February 22, 2012 at 7:45 am

Wonder why people don’t want to work?

Skip Intro February 22, 2012 at 9:02 am

A ratio of 4 applicants per job opening suggests the opposite.

Why work? February 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

The ratio 4 means that you only have to send your application to four jobs in order to get one (+ those not filled – those filled without applications). Shouldn’t it rather be 40? People really don’t want to work?

joan February 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

The ratio of 4 is the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings, the ratio of applicants is much higher sometimes as high as 100 to 1.

Seth February 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

I believe this ratio ignores the black market for jobs, which I would guess is growing.

will February 22, 2012 at 12:50 pm

low wages, and they probably supplement their pay with disability insurance.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 7:51 am

It’s a classic chart:(1) y-axis starts at a convenient-to-argument at non zero intercept (2) Separate y-scales were not really required based on the ranges of the data (3) The disability scale is both offset and magnified. Magnification approximately 7x

No doubt there’s an effect; but why distort its magnitude? A 300% spike in unemployment exhaustion caused a 30% spike in disability applications. Is this what most people will take away from the graph?

RZ0 February 22, 2012 at 8:04 am

+1
I recall economists on both sides predicting a rise in disability claims as the weak times continued and UI benefits ran out.

Nevertheless, there is an issue to think about here. What one thinks may say as much about oneself as about the situation.

I think it shows that most people would rather not see themselves as disabled but will admit the fact if it gives them a way to eat. I mean, if they were lazy bums – as some would assert – they would have claimed disability years ago, wouldn’t they?

TallDave February 22, 2012 at 8:21 am

Presumably there’s a marginal tendency to claim disability.

It’s the same dynamic as for drug dealers, if the profit margins are higher more people will try it.

Andrew' February 22, 2012 at 8:26 am

Economists are half way between engineers and lawyers.

In other words, if you can read the chart then you’ll know what it says. They just put that responsibility on you.

DJH February 25, 2012 at 12:46 pm

This was my situation, RZ0. I developed schizophrenic/psychotic symptoms right out of college but plowed through them with meds. I was working for two years until the symptoms came back and I found myself unemployed. I searched for a job for a year before admitting that I might need more help and applied for SSDI and was accepted. Thanks for bringing up this point. Nothing like being told “if the profit margins are higher, more people will try it” when you’re really just getting a small sop from the government so you don’t have to hallucinate while you’re working.

EM DC Economist February 22, 2012 at 8:35 am

The point is about levels not percentages. Both vertical axes have the same units.

EM DC Economist February 22, 2012 at 8:40 am

I take that back. I see your point. Normalizing to 100 in Jan 2005 might make that point more clearly and with less bias.

Andrew' February 22, 2012 at 8:41 am

Vastly different scales. Left is 200-800, right is 180-260 (which is irritating all by itself). So, it’s not really about level either.

Mostly I think economists use a lot of quickie auto-generated charts so it’s not entirely intentional.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 9:02 am

Here’s a quick (and ugly) attempt to approximately reproduce an un-distorted graph:

http://bit.ly/Modified_Disability_Chart

No doubt it’s hard to make the same forceful point with this one. Note that the accepted application will be about half of this. i.e. When unemployment exhaustions spiked by about 600,000 , the additional disability recipients shot up by about 30,000.

EM DC Economist February 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

Great. Thanks!

Andrew' February 22, 2012 at 9:52 am

Put another way “when total employment is down, people are increasingly disabled” the point still stands. One would think they aren’t getting hurt at work. What is it, paper cuts from sending out resumes?

EM DC Economist February 22, 2012 at 9:19 am

I don’t think that is auto-generated. That is from Stata. Takes 5 minutes work to code in (and make pretty) or you can also use a GUI to do the same thing.

Andrew' February 22, 2012 at 9:55 am

I’m referring to the observation that virtually every chart prompts these criticisms and a bunch come from some Fed or Fred website.

Jeff February 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

It is absolutely false to think that all graphs should begin at zero. This is a beginner’s fallacy. Read Tufte. Tabarrok’s graph focuses attention but it is well-labeled and sources are given (including links in the text) and certainly not deceptive.

Andrew' February 22, 2012 at 9:53 am

Isn’t the flipside of “begginner’s fallacy” an “expert’s gambit.” If enough of us are beginners and want chart’s started at some standard, and why not zero, then what’s the problem?

Doc Merlin February 22, 2012 at 10:30 am

Zero makes a lot of the data hard to read and makes points harder to make.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Can’t get nothin’ by you.

Tricks with charts only work on people who don’t know about tricks with charts. We do, so this is a bogus criticism.

Second, whenever a series has a baseline value, its fairly standard to adjust the origin. In some cases, investment returns are measured as positive or negative. In other cases, returns are measured against a benchmark return. The latter approach is more valid because it represents the opportunity cost, but you would call it a mendacious movement of the bar.

Do you really think the baseline disability rate is zero? If not, there is no reason to start the axis at zero. What if we charted year to year percent change? Would you complain that it obscures the level?

The chart is showing the LINEAR CORRELATION between these two series. Adding or subtracting a constant and changing the scale of one variable is perfectly consistent with a linear relationship. Would you feel better if the author did a linear regression and just skipped the horrendously deceptive chart?

The chart gives an insight that would motivate regression analysis. You’d have to include other explanatory variables, test for unit roots, etc. If your beef was omitted variable bias or spurious regression, then say so. But your beef seems to be about adjusting chart axes and scales. No cigar.

Miley Cyrax February 22, 2012 at 3:03 pm

+1, with a baseline value of zero for anyone who doesn’t understand what a linear regression is.

Brandon Berg February 22, 2012 at 3:04 pm

I know about tricks with charts, but I didn’t notice the right-hand scale until Rahul pointed it out. I thought, based on the left-hand scale, that disability applications had tripled.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

1. Pay more attention to detail.
2. The details here don’t matter.

Y = a + bX

a is the shift in the origin.

b is the factor by which we change the scale on one axis.

The chart is a quick and easy way to suggest that one of these variables is explanatory for variations in the other.

Two dimensional charts are always going to suffer from potentially false inferences, but it is a good start. The chart itself, simply by changing the scale and origin, is not inherently deceptive.

If anything, I would criticize the chart for not going far enough back in time to see if there appears to be reversion to a mean or trend. But limiting the presentation to recent periods is only deceptive if there is something interesting happening previously. Magnification aids understanding subject to the corresponding narrowing of the field of vision.

mulp February 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I want to know what the chart looks like from 1960 to 2010, with pointers to the various SS reforms, especially disability.

I imagine a big problem is a lack of data for “applications”. However disability eligibility requirements were included in Social Security by 1960 so that disability from about 1940 was subject to benefit to pretty much all workers. The period from 1960 to about 1980 was the period when the program eligibility, benefits, and the disability courts were brought to maturity.

The early issues from 1950 to 1980 were the shift from State welfare roles to the Federal SSI and disability roles. Given the mobility of people, Federalizing this benefit is justified if you think the disabled should be free to move someplace more accommodating to the disability.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 6:42 pm

Yes, that’s a very good point. It would be nice to see the whole history, especially during the other interesting times.

TallDave February 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Yes, exactly Willitts.

Mark February 23, 2012 at 9:45 am

Even a non-spurious significant result can be weak. Magnitude of the effect matters. And reducing type II errors (stop rewarding the fraudulent) has to be balanced with not increasing type I errors (don’t screw over the truly disabled).

Willitts February 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm

I agree with your sentiment. But food for thought:

Benefits are permanent when granted, but a person wrongly denied benefits has an opportunity for a hearing and multiple opportunities to obtain clear and convincing evidence. Therefore I think you are placing too high a cost on a Type I error and too low a cost on a Type II error.

Second, be careful not to conflate statistical significance in the relationship between unemployment and fraud with the decision whether to grant or deny benefits. Two different decisions, two different decision rules.

Remember that increasing your data set reduces the probability of both a Type I and a Type II error. If the relationship between unemployment and fraud is significant, it could justify more resources to be spent on claims adjudication during times of economic distress without necessarily raising the bar for individual claims.

Tom West February 23, 2012 at 10:48 am

Lets cut to the chase. What the chart was obviously *intended* to do was to invoke an emotional response about people abusing the disability system by selectively becoming disabled when convenient to do so. (where convenient may well mean trying not to lose the house, etc.). It is a simple shot off the bow that says some version of “So many people are taking immoral advantage of programs meant to protect workers that we’d be better off not having them at all”.

Andrew”s version of the graph (thank you Andrew) adds a different perspective, which emotionally says “No doubt some people are abusing the system, but it’s not so grievous that we should look at dismantling the system.”

I’m not going to argue which point is better, but I will say that the graph was a deliberate attempt to emotionally manipulate its audience.

The chart is showing the LINEAR CORRELATION between these two series.

Um, if I reversed the disability axis, it would *still* show a linear correlation, but I think most people would rightly feel I was being deceptive. Nice try, though.

Jason March 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm

+1 Scale manipulation.

Additionally, the second curve is smoothed. It is possible this correlation is deep in the noise.

Conor February 22, 2012 at 7:59 am

Agree & had the same thought. This chart is outrageous, Alex.

Alebron February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am

Rahul is absolutely right, very distortionary.

TallDave February 22, 2012 at 8:18 am

When a diaper fetish counts as a “disability” (and is upheld on review!) and we have judges with a track record of 99% approval…

FYI February 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm

On top of that you have this “modern conservative” definition by Alex. Come on, is the system this broken that we now have to accept one bogus policy to avoid another?

Very depressing.

Lee February 22, 2012 at 8:32 am

The exact same thing has happened in the UK – the Department for Work & Pensions has been struggling with it for years and recently started re-assessing people.

The Anonymouse February 22, 2012 at 9:38 am

Obviously this is a triumph of medical technology. You would be amazed at the activities that a 100%-disabled American can still manage to perform (if he doesn’t have someone watching).

jeanne February 22, 2012 at 12:22 pm

They can still work, too, up to a certain limit. It helps to not be viably employed during the application process. But after that, go for it!

So between SSD, food stamps, on books/off books income, Section 8, and eventually Medicare, you can make out pretty well.

The Anonymouse February 22, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Damn. And all I have is this pesky job.

DJH February 25, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Not true Jeanne, showing your utter ignorance on the subject. If you earn too much income on SSDI, they will take away your benefits. And no one is making out pretty well on SSDI checks.

The Anonymouse February 22, 2012 at 9:42 am

My amusing anecdote (in a bitter, shake-your-head sort of way): four guys I used to know (after discovering this I wanted to have no further dealings with them) on 100% military disability, which shakes out to around $3,000/mo. Their hobby? Full-contact MMA.

Doc Merlin February 22, 2012 at 10:33 am

Military disability is different. If I started sleepwalking and was in the military I would go on military disability. It wouldn’t prevent me from fighting in MMA.

I have a friend who had an ailment that meant she could randomly drop dead at any time, she was put on military disability. She was fine and could carry out life perfectly, but had a small chance of randomly dying.

The Anti-Gnostic February 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

Who doesn’t? Seriously. Unless your friend’s military service caused the ailment the taxpayers don’t owe her a dime. The sleepwalking example is ridiculous. You get paid to be a soldier, not a sleepwalker.

Jeez. No wonder we’re going broke.

FYI February 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Exactly. If I started to sleepwalk I should be fired (discharged, whatever) and *not* get any money for it unless I was really disabled for any other type of work!

The surprising part is that the country still works. We can only imagine how rich we would be if people didn’t abuse the system.

The Anonymouse February 22, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I don’t think that wishing that we had more-moral people will ever be the answer… whenever you set up a box labelled ‘free money,’ people will try to reach into it. The point is to design a more secure box.

FYI February 22, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I agree. I should have made that clear – the best solution is to have a smaller system were abuses are simply less available.

guest February 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

“Today Americans who rely on government entitlements receive an average of $32,700 worth of benefits. The average Americans income after taxes, for those who work, is $32,400, this is the first time in the history of the country, that we have seen this inversion”

That’s from a recent Freedom Watch episode with Judge Napolitano:
What Happened to Personal Freedom and Responsibility? (youtube link)

GiT February 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Sounds deceptive. What is the average value of benefits received by those who earn incomes of $32,400? I bet it isn’t zero. I bet it’s significantly more than $300 dollars, as well.

JonF311 February 23, 2012 at 11:42 am

Unless this figure includes rerired public workers collecting pensions, I call BS on that number. For a real world number, my step-sister in on disability (No, she is not faking anything) and gets about $900 a month. SSDI sdoes not pay very much, and anyone who thinks it does, I invite to live on $900 a month.

t3 February 22, 2012 at 9:46 am

Didn’t Marginal Revolution (I think Tyler) already do a much-commented on post on this topic a while back? If I remember correctly, the comments on that post were incredibly well informed.

One thing to remember is that SSDI rules base eligibility in part on how much a person has worked in the recent past. (A certain amount of work is shown as evidence of absence of a work-preventing disability.) So the fact that DI participation would go up during a time of high and sustained unemployment is not at all surprising, even among a group that would prefer working to receiving benefits.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 10:18 am

Is American unemployment benifit is fixed payout each month or does it depend on age / last salary etc? What about disability? Assuming I could qualify for either which pays more?

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 1:54 pm

Unemployment benefits are based loosely on prior salary. The system in most states has a low replacement rate for high wage workers and a high rate for low wage workers. So if there is a disincentive on reemployment, we should see it most at lower wages.

I really don’t know about SS disability. I’m sure their website gives an idea about benefits. They might even have a calculator. I tend toward thinking its not wage based, but it might be age based since it is an annuity.

KLO February 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm

It depends on what disability program you are talking about. SSDI is wage-based. SSI disability is not. People who lack the necessary work history and are poor enough to qualify for SSI, go with SSI. Those whose benefits are larger under the SSDI formulation, go with SSDI. So, for example, if you are an unemployed person living in a trailer in West Virginia who used to work in the coal mines, SSDI is for you. If you also have minor children who do not work and can qualify as disabled, SSI disability is for them. I used to do benefits work gratis for children. There were many families collecting multiple disability checks this way.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Oh, so could one collect unemployment and disability at the same time too? Or does one payout prevent you from (legally) collecting the other?

Robert February 22, 2012 at 9:47 am

and how many of them are working off the books? (See last week’s Ethicist in the NY Times, where a person wrote in that her friend, who she was employing, revealed she was also collecting unemployment. And, predictably, the Times didn’t say ‘report her immediately’ as I would have done.)

mulp February 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm

What is wrong with collecting unemployment and working?

This is encouraged under the Federal law that sets the standards for State programs. Some States allow only $5 a week before benefits are reduced dollar for dollar, but some States effectively tax UI benefits at 50% of labor income which extends the benefits over a longer period (a $5000 benefit over 26 weeks can be spread over 52 weeks by working at a lower paying job that cuts the weekly benefit in half in some States). Professionals can work full time at a low wage job while on unemployment and looking for a high wage job and reduce the income shock of losing their job in a poor labor market.

And the State will get the employment data within weeks for large employers and within a quarter for small employers that might be able to file FICA data only quarterly on paper. If the employer is paying the employee under the table then telling the employer to report the worker for working under the table while collecting UI benefits isn’t likely to heeded.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 6:18 pm

That sounds reasonable. Maybe we should call it underemployment insurance.

OTOH, maybe the state should only be in the business of providing the absolute bottom safety net; in which case why should the amounts paid out be keyed to the previous salary made? From a humanitarian perspective does an-out-of-work lawyer deserve more subsistence than a unemployed janitor?

If you are making $100,000 / year you ought to have other better non-state markets for wage-insurance above the bare minimums that everyone deserves.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 10:09 pm

That’s a decent proposal, but then unemployment/underemployment insurance premiums would have to be adjusted to take into account the likelihood and cost of underemployment.

Since states have failed to properly manage their current unemployment insurance system, and because there’s a tendency to redistribute revenues toward lower income people, This might make matters worse.

I’ve always wondered whether private insurance was worthwhile. There is probably too much moral hazard and systematic risk, so government has to step in.

An alternative to unemployment and unemployment insurance is called “savings.” Maybe government should allow people to opt-out of government UI in favor of self-insurance or private insurance with pre-tax dollars.

The Anti-Gnostic February 22, 2012 at 10:28 am

The welfare state regards you as a draft animal on the tax farm when you’re productive, opens the border when it decides you’re too well-paid, and slanders the very people whose productivity enabled the welfare state to begin with. I could go on.

If the common weal doesn’t care about you, why care about the common weal? On the margins, people rationally conclude there’s no reason not to go on the dole. As Justice Brandeis said, “Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.”

Hoonose February 22, 2012 at 10:36 am

As a physician and skier, I would be totally disabled to do much in the form of manual labor, because I can’t bend down. But I can still ski! I do all I can to avoid bending down. In fact packing and unpacking for a ski trip is the painful part for me. Of course I am at more risk for further injury, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

Nick February 22, 2012 at 10:37 am

The official unemployment figures have become so Pravda-esque that it is difficult to tell the real unemployment rate period. But when you look at figures like labor force participation or disability applications- you get the distinct feeling that unemployment is way, way higher than anyone would like to admit. But the Obama administration will run on this 8.6 percent figure and pretend it tells us anything about the real underlying health of the economy.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Can’t get nothing’ by you, neither.

Yes, we are ALL well informed about the shortcomings if the official unemployment rate. We are also aware of U4, U5, and U6, the labor force participation rate, and the employment to population ratio. The newspapers might report only headline U3, but more sophisticated audiences look at all the measures.

And yes, U6 is very high, but it is coming down. The labor force participation rate has plunged, but some of that change is demographic. And yes, politicians will deceive with statistics whenever they can (regardless of party).

Don’t act like you’re the first person in the world to discover the “conspiracy” of the unemployment rate.

DJH February 25, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Willitts,

Get over yourself. Nick wasn’t acting like he was the first person in the world to discover what can be hidden in the unemployment rate. By your grousing, it appears you think you WERE the first to discover it.

D February 22, 2012 at 10:46 am

I work for this program.

The US taxpayers are getting SCAMMED. Trust me.

Bill February 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I disagree with the premise that disability insurance is a substitute for unemployment insurance.

Think about it.

Unemployment and disability insurance payments are low relative to any employment. If you are on disability, you have committed to a life of low income, without a shot at higher income.

Disability is an alternative to local welfare, however. After “welfare reform”, state and local government became adept at taking a welfare recipient — and a person who would not be employable, for many reasons — and converting them to the disability roll. Previously, with federal welfare support, there wasn’t the incentive to convert.

Disability is not unemployment insurance.

If this were the case, you would be an economist and run a data analysis on a state by state basis showing, say, a correlation between unemployment, UI termination, and disability claims.

But, you are not an economist if you simply run a graph showing UI claims and permanent disability.

Too bad.

Jon Diamond February 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Many disabilities are fraud. Many more are legitimate temporary disabilities. The incentive to come off the rolls requires a paying job that exceeds your benefits by enough to justify working. Plus, there is the risk that at some point your disability again prevents you from working and you are re-entered into the labyrinthine world of reapplication. Obviously we need to cut down on fraud and figure out a slow winding down of benefits and ease of getting benefits back to encourage people who can work to give it a try without risking too much.

Rahul February 22, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Do more Disabled Car Tags and disabled parking permits get issued in a recession too? I wonder. Somehow it always seems that the number of people driving with those plates is a lot more than what seem to be the disabled fraction of society.

Willitts February 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm

That would seem to be a good variable to include. The problem is that when you get a doctor’s diagnosis of disability, you usually apply for both social security disability, disabled tags, and every other gimmee to which they are entitled.

A better covariant would be workman’s compensation claims. The last time I saw that data, it rises along with and sometimes in advance of the unemployment rate. WC would represent a similar propensity to offset expected lost wages with nonlabor income.

We should also control for the war. While disabled soldiers get medical retirement or VA disability, I’m not sure whether they might be eligible for full or partial social security disability. Not all service connected disabilities are caused by wounds. Many are caused by accidents and other injuries.

I think the number of disabled tags might rise with parking costs (time and money). They might be rising because of our aging population. One problem with disability benefits is that they are often granted permanently without subsequent review. People get disabled tags and disabled transit cards for mental illness sometimes. I wonder whether most people with disabled tags should be driving at all.

JasonL February 22, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I would like to see a chart that referenced the cause of disability, then attempted to break those out into falsifiable vs. non falsifiable medical conditions. How much is chronic pain vs. broken back, sort of thing and does that story evolve over time to suggest padding the numbers with greater regularity as unemployment expires.

L February 22, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Everyone is missing an important factor. In many (most?) states, you are presumptively eligible for Medicaid for Disabled adults if you are determined to be disabled by the social security administration. So, if you start working, you lose your stable disability check and your health insurance. So, post expansion of Medicad eligibility, will disability applications go down?

D February 22, 2012 at 5:53 pm

“Everyone is missing an important factor. In many (most?) states, you are presumptively eligible for Medicaid for Disabled adults if you are determined to be disabled by the social security administration.”

This is true. Another way to look at it is, when someone is considered disabled through social security, it’s automatically a 6 figure taxpayer expense, when you factor the numerous other programs that become immediately available to them. That’s a quote from our fraud section (they catch maybe .001% of any fraud).

Jan February 22, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Deceptively scaled chart, very disappointing. Context for this small but overblown trend would help. The post does not take into account aging population (yes, aged baby boomers are more likely qualify disability). Also ignores the fact that as a smaller and smaller proportion of people can afford private health insurance, the number of people who have gone the disability route in part just to qualify for the accompanying Medicare coverage (because as mainly sick and unemployed single adults they cannot get health insurance or qualify for Medicaid in most states) has increased.

And since we’re doing anecdotes: I know someone who is truly disabled, but has modified her life and working environment to drag herself through her old job everyday, although it is making her condition worse all the time. Her doctor and others have said she would qualify for SSI and he would be happy to write everything need for her application, but he warned her that even apparently very disabled people with career ending health problems are having their applications denied in the first round by SS as a general practice. Unless one has both physical and documented mental ailments this is the usually the case. This has deterred her from applying. Perversely, it is because she take off of work to go to a psychiatrist that she can’t afford, and because she can’t pay a lawyer to help her appeal when her application will likely be denied in the first round. America, F yeah.

The Anti-Gnostic February 23, 2012 at 11:11 am

She seems to be in an awful bind. How much of your own money are you willing to pay to get her out of it? Because you know how much of Other People’s Money it will take to let your friend quit work and spend her days going to psychiatrists and therapists? And to keep Granny on dialysis, Uncle Fred on insulin, Cousin Joe’s disc surgery, and all the other sad stories out there?

Every. Effing. Penny.

And when that runs out, then we’ll pull future wealth forward from our kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, etc. Then we’ll import a whole bunch of other tax slaves and get them working for Granny, Fred, Joe and Jan’s Friend. Except they’ll get old and sick too, and they’d prefer their tax dollars go to educating their kids and birthing their babies rather than chronic care for a bunch of strangers who lived beyond their means. And don’t forget, we have voting booths to install in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Syria, Iran and lots of people to pay not to fight Israel. This stuff ain’t cheap!

We are running out of future.

DJH February 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Woah there, Anti-Gnostic. Let’s not lump together Social Security with Medicare, Medicaid, wars and education. Social Security is well-funded (http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/social-security-bait-and-switch-a-continuing-series/?gwh=) and here for a reason. Paying taxes to help those in binds is essential because you never know if you’ll end up in one. Three out of ten workers in their 20’s will end up with some sort of disability, temporary or permanent, by the time they retire (http://www.ssa.gov/dibplan/index.htm).

Peter February 22, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Crazy checks.

Loupa February 24, 2012 at 6:43 pm

The health insurance issue is bigger than the disability issue. Getting SSDI is not easy. And oit is not some monstrous monthly amount. I talk to a good number of people who could work if they had decent medical care. They get turned down for DIB because of this. The definition of disability that SSA has to use is this: a person qualifies if they are found to be unable to work and earn $1010. per month, gross. And the condition that is keeping them from working has to be expected to last 12 months or more. Everyone who gets awarded DIB gets periodic medical reviews. “Permanent” means seven years before the first review. Sometimes the reviews are put off due to budget constraints. It takes 2 years before Medicare kicks in. No one gets approved based on hearsay. There has to be medica records to back it up. There are some people who apply because they

Loupa February 24, 2012 at 6:54 pm

just want a check. They don’t get approved. There is definitely some abuse of the system but the resources for catching up with cheats are getting more effective and efficient. Unemployment compensation is based on how long you worked for the employer and how much you earned weekly. SSDI is like getting your full-retirement age benefit early. In most cases, it will be less monthly than unemployment. It will always be less monthly than gainful employment, usually about half of what the person has been earning. It is no pleasure cruise. There is no requirement for a combination of mental and physical impairments. And VA has a completely different criteria for how they award disability. PTSD wouldn’t necessarily preclude intense physical activity. Just wanted to throw in some first-hand knowledge to balance out the hyperbole. Please remember these are human beings, not just statistics.

D February 25, 2012 at 7:07 pm

“Getting SSDI is not easy.”

EXTREMELY easy for someone over 55, or someone over 50 who doesn’t speak English.

“…having their applications denied in the first round by SS as a general practice.”

Common belief but totally false.

D February 25, 2012 at 7:10 pm

“It will always be less monthly than gainful employment”

False. Gainful employment actually has a number attached to it as part of its definition (gov’t definition), and SSDI payments nearly always exceed this minimum dollar amount.

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