That might seem like an overheated headline, but it really isn’t.
The WE dug up a study the federal government did in 2009 of the two types of Social Security Disability recipients – the people in the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), who are people who were working and paying into Social Security but then suffered some injury or illness that made them disabled, and the people in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, who managed to enroll in disability without paying into the system (they were identified as disabled from the start, for example).
In 2009, the Social Security Administration conducted a detailed study of disability recipients’ characteristics, desire to work and their impediments from doing so. Geared towards academics, only the raw, individual-level responses were released, and until the Examiner’s analysis here, there has been little in the way of published tallies.
The survey included responses from 2,300 disability benefits recipients. There are approximately 11 million SSDI recipients and approximately seven million SSI recipients.
That survey was in 2009, mind you; four years later the ranks of the people on disability in this country have ballooned. There were 7.8 million people enrolled in SSDI in 2009. The latest figure is 8.9 million as of July of this year. That’s a 14 percent increase in four years, which is a lot larger than either job, population or overall economic growth in that time frame. For SSI, the number has grown from 7.5 million in January 2009 to 8.3 million in June of this year. That’s an 11 percent increase.
One can assume that in a stagnant economy with the federal government operating an open-door policy toward adding people to the disability rolls, the numbers of people who might not actually be truly disabled would be disproportionate among the people added to the total.
So whatever you’d find in a 2009 study you might expect would be worse today.
Consider that as you look at the numbers of people in these two programs from that four-year-old survey…
* Returning to work is not a goal for 71 percent of the SSDI recipients, 60 percent of the SSI recipients.
* 75 percent of the SSDI recipients don’t see themselves returning to work within five years, 65 percent of the SSI recipients don’t.
* 72 percent of the small number of SSDI recipients who started a job while on disability got cash under the table, as did 70 percent of the small number of SSI recipients who started a job while on disability.
* 24 percent of the SSDI recipients lack even GEDs, as do 43 percent of the SSI recipients.
There are far worse numbers to be found at the link.
The upshot here is that somewhere between 17 and 18 million people are picking up a disability check from the government, and a large number of those people are not disabled, could work a job and are using disability as a facile excuse not to.
Moreover, a whole lot of them don’t want to go get a job for fear they’d lose their government benefits if they did. Some 12 percent of SSDI recipients and 17 percent of SSI recipients actually admitted to the federal government that they prefer sitting around and getting a check to the prospect of getting a job that pays more. What percentage decided not to be so candid?
You’d assume people who have some sort of disability wouldn’t be able to do manual jobs. Fair enough. But 67 percent of SSDI recipients and 57 percent on SSI said they couldn’t find a job they possessed qualifications for…and 92 percent of SSDI recipients and 89 percent on SSI said they weren’t pursuing job training to find something they actually can do. More, 94 percent on SSDI and 87 percent on SSI said they’re not in school to acquire skills for new jobs.
93 percent on SSI and 96 percent on SSDI said they hadn’t looked for any job at all in the month leading up to the survey.
Scroll through those numbers and you could very well come to a few conclusions.
First, federal government disability programs might have been well-intentioned, but it’s become obvious they’re now in large part a vehicle for bribing people who don’t want to work. Or, put another way, they’re subsidized malingering and sloth.
And our money is being wasted on layabouts.
Not everybody in those programs are bums. Certainly there are people who need our help, and nobody is suggesting they be thrown out in the street.
But it’s obvious the controls in the Social Security Disability programs are insufficient to make sure the money goes to the people who actually need it, and it’s also obvious the incentives for the behaviors society is looking for – namely, that if something legitimate keeps you from being able to do a job you used to do then you go out and acquire a skill which allows you to do something else – aren’t there as this program is currently constituted.
How to fix this? Easy – get it out of Washington.
The Social Security Disability program needs to be block-granted to the states, and it needs to have its funding cut. States, who have to balance their budgets, would not tolerate this kind of fraud, goldbricking and abuse for long – or if they did they’d ultimately pay the price for it.
There’s probably no one way to fix this, which is why you decentralize it. Let states and even local governments come up with innovative ways to serve the needs of the disabled, and you’ll drive greater efficiency and get the incentives right through best practices developed from real-world experience.
After all, it can’t be any worse than this…