Apr 3, 2013

"The Real-World Workplace Is Still Tougher Than It Looks From The Faculty Lounge"

     From Michael Hiltzik writing in the Los Angeles Times:
...Social Security disability, has a bull's-eye on its back — and not for the first time. ...
[T]here's almost no doubt that the disability program's trust fund will run out in 2016, three years from now. At that point, absent congressional action, disability payments will have to be cut by about 20%. 

"The insolvency of DI could not come at a worse time politically," says Kathy Ruffing, a budget expert at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This impending disaster could affect 8.8 million disabled Americans and their 2 million spouses and dependents. But a paralyzed Congress seems disinclined to even debate the necessary near-term fixes, which could include reallocating more of the Social Security payroll tax to the disability fund or raising the tax to shore up the program. Instead, Washington wrings its hands over the supposedly explosive growth of the program from 3 million beneficiaries in 1980. Expect to hear more about how disability is supposedly "out of control."
Perhaps because it covers a relatively small number of Social Security recipients, the disability program has always been a prime victim of mythmakers. Its beneficiaries are portrayed as slackers gaming the system ... "This American Life" described the program as "a deal 14 million Americans have chosen for themselves," as though the typical recipient has chosen to suffer the debilitating medical conditions or mental syndromes that reduce him or her to subsistence on an average monthly check of $1,130. ...
NPR was merely the latest in a long line of news sources to get disability wrong. Last year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof claimed that rural families were pulling their children out of school so their illiteracy would keep them qualified for disability. He didn't actually identify anyone doing this, and in any case illiteracy and poor educational attainment aren't considered disabling conditions in and of themselves. The year before that, the Boston Globe reported that parents were placing their kids on hyperactivity drugs so they'd qualify for disability; government investigators found the opposite — kids on those medications were "more likely to be denied" benefits. In the 1990s, the media frenzy was over parents supposedly "coaching" their children to act crazy, which added the term "crazy checks" to the political lexicon. Again, no substantiation. ...
As for the increased caseload, "the story is a fairly simple one of economics and demographics," Ruffing says. To begin with, the U.S. population is growing older: The ratio of those ages 50 to 64 increased by a third from 1980 to 2010, according to the Census Bureau, rising from less than 15% of the population to 20%. As Ruffing told a House subcommittee last month, people are twice as likely to become disabled at age 50 as at age 40, and twice again more likely at 60 as at 50.
Economic and workplace conditions have a big effect. It's easy to assert, as do some academic researchers, that disability rolls should be shrinking because work is no longer as toilsome as it used to be. When the Social Security disability program was created in 1956, assert David Autor of MIT and Mark Duggan of the University of Maryland, "a substantial fraction of jobs involved strenuous physical activity [and] assistive technologies were limited and crude."
Yet the real-world workplace is still tougher than it looks from the faculty lounge. A 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that 45% of workers 58 and older held jobs that were physically demanding or involved difficult working conditions.

1 comment:

Gexton said...
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