Disability Nation

In the Age of Obama, Americans may be better off faking disability than trying to find a non-existent job. Obamanomics reached the bottom of the barrel last month, when more Americans went on disability than found jobs. That is, apparently, the end point of the welfare state.

In fact, though, the steadily rising number of “disabled” Americans predates the Obama administration. Today, the Congressional Budget Office released a report on the Social Security system’s disability program. Its findings are grim. This chart shows how the percentage of Americans receiving Social Security disability benefits has steadily grown, with that growth accelerating during the Obama years:

Given the immense amounts of money that are spent on medical and vocational rehabilitation, it is hard to believe that the number of Americans who are physically incapable of working has grown. The causes of the increase must be sought elsewhere. Note that the percentage of working-age Americans living on disability has more than doubled since the Reagan administration.

Social Security’s disability program is rapidly going broke:

CBO finds that in addition to changing labor force dynamics and an aging population, the 1984 federal expansion in eligibility criteria has brought the SSDI program to the brink of insolvency. Since 2009, the SSDI program has been paying out more in annual benefits than it receives in taxes and interest on the trust fund’s assets. Consequently, the trust fund is shrinking and will be depleted by 2016—just four years from now.

One more thing–after two years, anyone receiving SSDI benefits is automatically eligible for Medicare. So the burgeoning ranks of the “disabled” contribute to the Medicare crisis. The CBO report says that in 2011, Medicare costs for SSDI recipients added up to $80 billion.

What should we make of an ever-healthier country that produces a steadily growing number of citizens who think their best option is to be disabled? This is a financial problem; a political problem; but above all, a cultural problem. One thing we can say for sure, however, is that an administration that encourages economic growth rather than squashing the private sector will create more opportunities for those who would really rather not be disabled.

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