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NPR on the tragedy of disability insurance

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Photo - Retired man in his wheelchair
Retired man in his wheelchair
Politics,Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone

Ballooning federal Disability Insurance payments were the subject of my December 2 Washington Examiner column. I drew on my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstad’s book A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic and pointed out that between 1996 and 2011, when the nation gained 8.8 million private sector jobs, the disabillity rolls grew by 4.1, to a total of 8.6 million, 5.6% of the 18-to-64 population.

That’s hugely expensive. “But,” I added, “there is also a human cost. Consider the plight of someone who at some level knows he can work but decides to collect disability payments instead. That person is not likely to ever seek work again, especially if the sluggish recovery turns out to be the new normal.

“He may be gleeful that he was able to game the system or just grimly determined to get what he can in a tough situation. But he will not be able to get the satisfaction of earned success from honest work that contributes something to society and the economy.”

You can get some idea of that human cost by reading NPR reporter Chana Joffe-Walt’s “Unfit for work: The startling rise of disability in America.” She spent six months on the road interviewing people on disabilities and those who helped them qualify for Disability Insurance. It’s a fine piece of work and makes unsettling reading. I hope to return to this subject in a later column.

 

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