The Birmingham, AL News recently ran an article trying to explain the fact that Alabama has one of the highest rates of Social Security disability benefits receipients in the country. The explanations that the newspaper came up with were high rates of opioid usage, high percentage of the labor force in manufacturing jobs, fraud and the fact that many people qualify for Social Security disability benefits based on "muscle pain." Apparently, the authors of the article didn't understand exactly what the word "musculoskeletal"means.
All newspaper articles are reductive. This one is more so than most. The reporters really should have concentrated more upon one factor they identified, the high percentage of the Alabama labor force in manufacturing jobs. The article doesn't explain the connection, perhaps because the reporters didn't understand it; perhaps because they were in a rush to get to drug abuse and fraud as possible explanations. It's simple, though. Manufacturing jobs are more physically demanding than office jobs. They put workers at greater risk for workplace injuries and repetitive motion disorders, like worn out shoulders, carpal tunnel syndrome, bad knees, etc. It's harder for a sick or injured worker to return to a manufacturing job because of the higher physical demands of the work. See, that's not hard to explain. It's not a bit controversial, either. Also, the reporters should have talked about the low educational attainments and poor work skills of the Alabama population and the poor health care available to low income people in the state. All of those contribute mightily to the incidence of disability but why bother talking about such boring explanations when you can talk about drugs and fraud? And, by the way, workplace injuries and repetitive motion disorders tend to be painful. Opioids are often prescribed for such disorders for good reason.