Jun 2, 2017

It Has Nothing To Do With "Character"

     Someone posted this comment on this blog recently:
Not everyone can be Stephen Hawking ALS or not, that is a once in a generation mind. On the other hand medical billing and coding, data processing, social services work and countless other positions can and are done by those with disabilities every day. Programs like HBWD (Health Benefits for Workers with Disability) help bridge the gap of healthcare, the highest priority for those with chronic conditions. You can make a difference or make excuses, you cannot legislate character.
     I think this is worthy of a reply.
     Why do people take low end jobs as a Certified Nurse Attendant (CNA), kitchen helper, assembler, construction helper, etc? These jobs are physically demanding, the working conditions aren't so great and the pay is lousy. Why strain your back as a CNA lifting 200 pound patients for little more than minimum wage when you can work in a data processing job that pays better?
     The answer is that people take these harder low-paying jobs because they're not able to perform those more desirable jobs. The problems that keep people in physically demanding, low-paying jobs vary from person to person but the two most important reasons are limited cognitive abilities and chronic psychiatric problems. If you're reading this blog, you probably didn't hang out in high school with the kids who barely made it through high school, much less the kids who didn't make it through high school. Those kids became adults who went to work at these physically demanding low-paying jobs. They're almost invisible to most of us who work in offices but they're a significant part of the workforce. They file a lot of disability claims because once they get sick or injured they have little to offer an employer. Having low cognitive abilities or chronic psychiatric problems isn't a sign of lack of character. It's bad luck.
     Contrary to the poster, not anyone can work in medical billing and coding or data processing. I don't even know what sort of "social services" work the poster is talking about. To do office jobs you have to have basic computer literacy and the ability to type. You have to be able to learn. You have to be able to work with other people. You have to meet some minimum standards for hygiene and social conduct. Those with low cognitive abilities or chronic mental illness usually have problems with several of these requirements. This may seem incomprehensible if you work in an office and never mingle with poorly educated or chronically mentally ill people but I'm talking about real problems that force people to take low-paying, physically demanding jobs and that make it very difficult for them if they become sick or injured. Talking about these practical problems as if they were merely a matter of "character" is a "let them eat cake" approach. And, no, additional education isn't a solution either. If these folks could have benefited from additional education, in most cases they would already have gotten it. They already have plenty of incentive.


Anonymous said...

For an even more clueless approach to the issue, see the weird fever dream among technofetishist libertarians for teaching kids in poor areas how to code.

Josh M said...

Well said. It's extremely sad how out of touch many of Americans are with regard to those with disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Well said! People live in bubbles and don't understand that not everyone is as fortunate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with both posters. I do work with people on the low end. Those with a few more skills get jobs with more responsibility and then that job is eliminated. I had a friend who was a hospital clerk who did go to school and complete courses in medical billing at the local community college. She never did land a job in medical billing.
Even though the vocational rules would deny a person disability if they could do unskilled sedentary work, such work doesn't exist in this regional economy. I wish we had programs here which provided health benefits to those who tried to work with disabilities. Vocational Rehabilitation once sort of did this but they are so low on funds, there aren't very many people they can help medically.

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary, Charles! All of us who've represented claimants in areas where the economy is "restructuring" are aware of these problems! It's a shame that more people are incapable of empathy with those of limited abilities.

Anonymous said...

The irony. People with good educations and no mental illness, err due to their lack of education, about people with poor education and mental illness.

Holly Grove Gardener said...

I remember hearing a commentary about the use of the word "Unfortunates" when referring to the disabled in England. The term implies that medical infirmity is a function of fate, not character nor desire. A simple word choice takes blame away from the victim and sufferer. That is how I wish we viewed those who have been unfortunate enough to develop work-ending medical conditions.

Anonymous said...

Amen Charles. The original poster clearly has not ventured far from her or his comfort zone out into the world of our claimants.

Attorney Ivan Ramos said...

Well said Charles. Unfortunately, too many people live in a bubble and assume that we are all born with a similar set of basic skills. I was in the bubble too, until six years ago when I started doing SSD work. It was an eye opener.
I think that a baseball analogy is appropriate to illustrate your point: Expecting some of our clients to do medical coding is like Aaron Judge asking me to hit a 90 mile per hr fastball. It's really easy for him, why can't I do it too? (Aaron just him another bomb a minute ago.)

Tim said...

9:12 PM. That's why the best athletes generally make terrible coaches: everything's too easy for them. The "best" workers doing a particular job struggled to teach me to do a mill/hot rubber cutting job, because of my shoulder/back issues. Once I was able to master how to do it, I could teach anyone how to do the job, with the least stress on the body, in 10 minutes. Now, if I could just learn to write, type, etc. without a big increase in pain!

Anonymous said...

This is one of those moments where I wish your blog had a "big thumbs" up sign like Facebook. Your comment was excellent and a very good refutation of the mind set that says we can retrain people to do jobs that they have no ability to learn.

CW in Dallas said...

Well said, Charles. You are a mensch.

Anonymous said...

While I agree to extent, the real question becomes "what is the answer?".

If the answer is just to put them on disability, then I'm all for it but don't have work restrictions. Sounds like there is no hope for them to ever be genuinely productive members of society on a regular basis. It may even work better to just remove the "disability" tag and just supplement whatever income they can make with a "welfare" payment.

If most "disabled" people will never recover, SSA is wasting time and money on work incentives and enforcement.

Anonymous said...

As the original poster, it is funny to read the comments on how out of touch I am. Unlike nearly everyone on this blog, I work directly with the disabled after they get a benefit. I work with the disabled when they get denied. I work in an office that 75% of the people have a disability. In fact, one of the five major tasks of our office is getting disabled people back to work.

So unlike an SSA employee that is file and forget, or a rep that once paid is pushing them out the door, I help the disabled navigate the world as a disabled person. From mental health/behavioral, mobility, blindness or deafness there has not been one single person that I have worked with who sincerely wanted to return to work get back to some form of employment. Some did not work above SGA, but they worked and maintained the dignity employment brings to a life.

The problem is not the disabled, the problem is the society and employers. We have worked extremely hard educating our local area employers. We fight and kick and scream to get them to hire those with disabilities. We fight with our consumers, to get them motivated to try new things, to help those others with disabilities.

What I find insulting is yes we can have a difference of opinions on this but don't tell me what we are doing every day cant be done. Perhaps if you worked as hard to "help the disabled" as you like to think you do, perhaps more would return to work. Fortunately cranial rectal inversion isn't a disabling condition, but I do have some assistive tech that will help many of you, glass bellybuttons so you can see.

Anonymous said...

@ 10:19 I am surely hope that you did not intend to be completely and totally offensive to those with disabilities. But phrases like: "Sounds like there is no hope for them to ever be genuinely productive members of society on a regular basis."

Only wage earners are "genuine productive members of society?" Stay at home Moms and Dads are not productive? Retired workers that volunteer are not members of society? Clergy? Off grid self supporters?

Just the fact that a blind person is seen out in the community navigating to the bus stop is productive to your society. The deaf couple communicating in ASL at a local pizza joint are adding to society. A wheelchair user going up a ramp at the gas station, the troubled teen with behavioral health working, a stutter, those on the spectrum that are social awkward all add to the society and are genuine and productive in ways you cannot imagine when they are out and about living a life in the community. It may not be easy for you to see them, but it makes society better when they are in it.

I wonder if there is a dollar amount you have in mind to be "genuinely productive members of society." Under $30k, you are not granted full society membership? $175k and you are being productive?

Your comments are just the tip of the iceberg for what the disabled get every day. I will take any ten of them over someone who is so careless and thoughtless, regardless of what they earn.

Anonymous said...

My intent was to stop wrestling with the story about whether people can or can't work. I will admit, "genuinely productive" sounds harsh and in retrospect unwise to state. I understand people can be productive in ways beyond what they contribute as earnings.

My concern is that everyone seems to believe that money us the answer. Pay poor or disabled people MORE money. Tax those that work MORE to help those that have less. If the answer is always MORE money, then those who don't contribute (currently or ever) will get the blame.

The work incentives SSA uses constantly get slammed for being inadequate or counter productive or too complicated but I've yet to actually see an alternative other than "just let them work and get disability".

If that's the best alternative then just pay a supplemental or welfare benefit and remove the work restrictions. The amount of money drawn out far exceeds anything paid in after about 3-4 years and this is true even in retirement cases.

Sometimes things need to be changed. What worked in the past few decades may not work now. I'll freely admit to not having an answer. That's why I come one this site. I like to see what others think about these issues.

Tim said...

6:21 PM "The amount of money drawn out far exceeds..." That's how the SS retirement plan works! Many of my great aunts and uncles on one side of my family died in their 40s and 50s, while some on the other side lived into their 90s. Obviously, it's a better deal for those fortunate to live longer. Likewise, some need the DISABILITY INSURANCE and others do not, but all workers pay into it. By the way, part of the definition of disability is the inability to sustain SGA. As for the money, it would be there if Congress hadn't spent it on other things!