Disabled Nation: Small Fraction Leave Disability Because They Work or Get Better

Terence P. Jeffrey | May 8, 2013 | 4:47am EDT
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When President Dwight Eisenhower — a big-government Republican running for re-election — signed the federal disability program into law in 1956, he suggested this new form of welfare would increase government efficiency, rehabilitate the truly disabled and roll back government dependency.

"The law initiates new programs of grants to train more skilled social workers and to support research in ways of helping people overcome dependency," Eisenhower said.

"We will, of course, endeavor to administer the disability provisions efficiently and effectively, in cooperation with the states," he said. "I also pledge increasing emphasis on efforts to rehabilitate the disabled so that they may return to useful employment."

In fact, the disability program predictably became a one-way street to government dependency — a street that gets wider, better paved and more heavily trafficked every year.

According to the program's latest annual statistical report, which covers 2011, only approximately 0.7 percent of the people on disability that year managed to get off the program because their condition improved or they returned to work and made too much money to still qualify for benefits.

In 2011, 8,575,544 workers took federal disability benefits, and 653,877 saw their benefits terminated. Among those whose benefits were terminated, the largest group was the 338,222 who reached the federal retirement age and started collecting Social Security instead of disability. The second-largest was the 235,734 who died.

The government terminated 39,813 workers from disability in 2011 because they went back to work and earned too much money, 23,271 because their medical condition had improved and 16 — that's right, 16 — for what the Social Security Administration called "miscellaneous" reasons. These 16 included those who "did not comply with alcohol or drug abuse treatment programs or who refused vocational rehabilitation services."

The combined total of 63,100 terminated from disability in 2011 because they went back to work, got better or were among the 16 in the "miscellaneous" category, equaled approximately 0.7 percent of the 8,575,544 workers on disability that year.

In 2010, a combined 61,011 left disability because they went back to work (40,959), got better (20,022) or were among the 30 "miscellaneous" people that year.
Those 61,011 equaled approximately 0.7 percent of the 8,203,951 on disability benefits that year.

In 2009, 52,858 of the 7,788,013 workers taking disability — or, again, approximately 0.7 percent — stopped getting benefits because they went back to work (32,445), got better (20,369) or fell into the "miscellaneous" category (44).

Between 1776 and the early 1950s, Americans built a great nation without a single person collecting a single dime of federal disability benefits.

But what has happened to America since Eisenhower signed his law? We have become a disabled nation. The total number of U.S. disability beneficiaries now exceeds the total population of Greece.

As of this April, according to the Social Security Administration, the disability program was paying benefits to 10,962,532 individuals. That included a record 8,865,586 disabled workers, 1,936,236 children of disabled workers and 160,710 spouses of disabled workers.

Those 10,962,532 Americans taking disability benefits outnumber the entire population of Greece (10,815,197, according to that nation's latest census) by 147,335.

What exactly has forced all these Americans to stop working and start taking checks from the government? Well, the largest categories were those with bad backs, bad ligaments and bad moods. Of the 8,575,544 "workers" in 2011 collecting disability, 2,488,374 — or 29 percent — did not work because of problems with their "musculoskeletal system and connective tissue." Another 1,304,851 — or 15.2 percent — did not work because they had a "mood disorder."

Over the past four and a half decades, the ratio of full-time workers to disabled workers has dramatically declined. In January 1968, there were 64,640,000 full-time workers and 1,202,115 workers taking disability — a ratio of 54 to 1. In January 2013, there were 115,918,000 full-time workers and 8,830,026 workers taking disability — a ratio of 13 to 1.

The declining ratio of full-time workers to disabled worker is evidence of a dramatic cultural change. America's work ethic has been replaced by the dependency ethic compounded by the disability ethic.

How much lower can the ratio of full-time workers to disabled workers go? Eventually, even the strongest of backs and hardiest of hearts must buckle and break beneath the ever-expanding burden of the redistributionist state.
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