Timesizing® Not Downsizing
[Commentary] ©2002-15 Philip Hyde, Timesizing Wire, Box 117 Harvard Sq, Cambridge MA 02238 USA (617) 623-8080
Disability and disability
For current disability news, see Additional disability news below first long story
Downsizing instead of timesizing has made it harder and harder to support ourselves, when it should be getting easier and easier with automation and robotics. Burgeoning disability is another unintended side effect. It's another dark secret that America has besides the largest prison population in the developed world and a huge homeless population - nevermind workers' comp (see 7/26-28/2003#2), unemployment, and welfare.
In 2013, roughly 11 million (see 7/29/2014 below) collected disability benefits, up from 8.2m in 2010 (4/07/2011 disab.sec.) and 7.9m in 2004 (7/29/2014 disab.sec.) and at 11m, equal to 3.7% of a US population of 300m. Thus, benefit-drawing disability has been increasing by 933,000 Americans a year since 2010 - all this despite huge untapped potential in the area of job design and unprecedented medical and computer tools to offset every kind of disability (as demonstrated by the continuing contributions of quadriplegic physicist Stephen Hawking - see "New tools to help patients reclaim damaged senses - Tiny and powerful, the devices are moving out of the laboratory," by Sandra Blakeslee, 11/23/2004 NYT, D1, and "Job listings will be open to the blind," 1/31/2013 AP via BG, B6). Re: the source of the problem ("laid-off workers" alias downsizing), scan down to article on 9/02/2002 below -
mostly from the Wall St Journal & the New York Times -
7/29/2014 disability in the news (more recent items, if any, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
- ...Social Security disability spending rose, WSJ, A1 pointer to A2.
Falling costs boost Medicare outlook, by Damian Paletta, WSJ, A2 target article.
...The Social Security disability-insurance program..will be able to pay only 81% of benefits starting in late 2016 unless Congress intervenes. Roughly 11 million Americans collected a total of $140 billion in SS disability benefits last year, up from 7.9 million people collecting $78.2 billion in 2004...
4/08/2013 disability in the news (more recent items, if any, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
- Workers stuck in disability stunt [or anchor the consumption needed for?] economic recovery, by Leslie Scism & Jon Hilsenrath, Wall Street Journal, A1.
[Well well, the WSJ is finally facing one of the Great Externalities of their financiers' utopia.]
Former truck driver James Ottesen, of Mason, Ohio, said being on disability "kind of reminds me of welfare.' (photo caption)
[No kiddin'. We made earning an honest living harder than dependency or dishonesty, so we pushed people into unemployment and welfare. So we capped unemployment and welfare and pushed people into disability - find a friendly doctor, get a friendly letter... Now if we cap disability instead of going back to square one and making earning easier by sharing the vanishing work, we're just pushing people into prisons or homelessness - AND sacrificing more and more of our potential domestic consumer spending and marketable productivity and sustainable investment - so Wall Streeters and other Type As can continue drift off on their own planet?!]
Excused absence ... (graph caption)
[School metaphor really appropriate here? or God forbid, do Wall Streeters really imagine they're everyone else's schoolteachers now?! (Why not, after their tax evasions have forced the firing of so many teachers?) ]
- SSDI beneficiaries, percentage by age groups of civilian population...All data..Dec. [&from] Labor Dept.
55-64 2005: 8.8% 2012: 10.0%...
45-54 2005: 4.8% 2012: 5.7%
35-44 2005: 2.2% 2012: 2.6%
[Totals 2005: 15.8% 2012: 18.3%. So the number of Americans, just aged 35-64, not counting anyone under 35 (and increasing numbers of asthmatic children are on "disability"), is 18.3% of 300 million on disability = 55,000,000 Americans? This would mean that at least 20% for sure, more than one in five Americans, is now "disabled"??! Ifso congrats, numerobotic Wall Streeters and leansizing CEOs: you've Disabled Capitalism! Cap disability without Timesizing and you'll have half the country incarcerated!]
The unexpectedly large number of American workers who piled into the Social Security Administration's disability program during the recession and its aftermath threatens to cost the economy tens of billions a year in lost wages and diminished tax revenues.
Signs of the problem surfaced Friday, in a dismal jobs report that showed U.S. labor force participation rates falling last month to the lowest levels since 1979, the wrong direction for an economy that instead needs new legions of working men and women to drive growth and sustain a baby boomer generation headed to retirement.
Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist for J.P. Morgan, JPM +0.02% estimates that since the recession, the worker flight to the Social Security Disability Insurance program accounts for as much as a quarter of the puzzling drop in [labor force] participation rates, a labor exodus with far-reaching economic consequences.
The unemployment rate in Friday's report fell to a four-year low of 7.6%, which most times signals job growth. This time it reflected workers leaving the workforce, a problem that could persist: Economists say relatively few people are likely to trade their disability checks for paychecks, in part because the program doesn't give much incentive to leave.
Former truck driver James Ottesen, who began receiving monthly payments in 2009, said, "I'm not real happy" about being on disability. "It kind of reminds me of welfare." He said he would "like to get re-educated to do something" because "my body is broke but my mind is not."
But even if the 53-year-old Ohio man learned of a job he could do with herniated discs, he said, the government disability program feels like "a blanket covering you, and to walk out from it…at my age, it's a little intimidating."
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has worried that the financial crisis would lead to a permanent loss of workers, setting up what economists call hysteresis, a term borrowed from physics to describe temporary market changes that lead to permanent economic losses.
It is no longer a theoretical problem, said David Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has studied the disability program. The economy has a case of hysteresis, he said, created by the permanent transfer of workers to disability rolls.
Many newcomers to the disability roster are low-wage earners with limited skills, Mr. Autor said, and they are "pretty unlikely to want to forfeit economic security for a precarious job market."
Payments, tied to a worker's wage history, average $1,130 a month, which totals $13,560 a year. That is about $2,000 a year more than the federal poverty level for a single person and about $2,000 less than full-time wages at the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. After two years, people on disability are eligible for Medicare health insurance—another government benefit that encourages recipients to stay put.
Between December 2007, when the recession started, and June 2009, when it ended, the number of Americans receiving federal disability benefits grew to 7.6 million from 7.1 million. Then the rolls swelled, reaching 8.9 million in March, about 5.4% of the civilian workforce ages 25 to 64, according to J.P. Morgan estimates. That compares with 1.7% of the U.S. workforce in 1970.
Economic growth is driven by the number of workers in an economy and by their productivity. Put simply, fewer workers usually means less growth.
Since the recession, more people have gone on disability, on net, than new workers have joined the labor force. Mr. Feroli estimated the exodus to disability costs 0.6% of national output, equal to about $95 billion a year.
"The greater cost is their long-term dependency on transfers from the federal government," Mr. Autor said, "placing strain on the soon-to-be exhausted Social Security Disability trust fund."
Last year, Social Security paid nearly $137 billion to 8.8 million disabled workers and 2.1 million of their spouses and children; related Medicare costs were about $80 billion. Program trustees estimate that by 2016, Social Security won't be able to pay all of its disability claims.
In past recessions, discouraged workers dropped out of the labor force but returned when the economy picked up steam. About two-thirds of Americans ages 16 and older were either working or looking for work at the start of the current recovery in 2009.
But rather than expanding, the proportion of workers has since fallen to 63.3%, according to the government's March statistics, released Friday.
With overall participation down, the labor force—a measure of people working and people looking for work—is barely growing. In March it was up just 0.2% from a year earlier and has grown by just 318,000 people since the recession ended in June 2009 to 155 million workers. In the decade before the recession, the labor force grew on average by 1.2% per year.
Some lawmakers and public-policy analysts are calling for an overhaul of the disability program. Senate and House panels held hearings last year addressing shortcomings, including the failure to return more people to work.
The White House released details of its proposed budget Friday that called for closing loopholes that allow people to collect full disability and unemployment benefits over the same period.
The federal program provides a safety net to workers with severe illnesses and injuries. To obtain an award, workers must prove they haven't worked substantially for at least five months, and Social Security must determine that a medical impairment will prohibit work for at least a year.
With an expanded list of disabilities added by Congress in 1984, more than half of people awarded benefits now qualify because of musculoskeletal problems—including back pain—mood disorders and other mental problems, according to Social Security data. Such claims can take a year or more to assess because of their often-subjective nature.
Economists have found that more people apply for disability during periods of high unemployment, partly because they can't find work. Ailments they might endure during good times are instead used as an avenue out of the labor force.
The economic downturn drove about 2.2 million additional applications for disability, relative to what would have occurred in the absence of the slump, according to estimates by Mark Duggan, an economics and public-policy professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who has co-written research on the disability program with Mr. Autor.
About one million of those applicants likely remain out of the labor force, either because they got benefits or their applications were pending, Mr. Duggan said. Private disability insurance returns workers in far greater proportion.
In recent years, about a third of applicants have been accepted at the initial stage, which typically takes more than four months. Those rejected can appeal to administrative law judges for decisions that can take nearly two years, according to Messrs. Duggan and Autor.
With the economy improving, the disability roster is now expanding at a slower pace, though many economists expect its share of working-age people to continue growing.
The boom in disability is part of a longer-term trend that places the burden of economic casualties on the federal government. Some states use the program to reduce welfare costs, according to congressional testimony last year by David Stapleton, director of the Center for Studying Disability Policy at nonpartisan consulting firm Mathematica Policy Research.
States save money when federal disability checks replace state-paid benefits. Workers on federal disability also can switch from state-supported health insurance programs—such as Medicaid—to Medicare, he said.
The nation's burgeoning disability roster stems partly from the aging workforce: Baby boomers' bodies are breaking down, and some economists believe that the problem will level off once they reach retirement.
But boomers aren't the only ones seeking help, Of the nearly nine million former workers receiving federal disability payments, more than 2.5 million are in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
"It is difficult to overstate the role that the SSDI program plays in discouraging" employment among these young people, Messrs. Autor and Duggan said in one of their research papers, urging reform.
With its origins in the 1950s, the government disability program has for decades paid little attention to getting people back to work, largely because when it was created, medical treatments rarely improved the prospects of older factory workers in physically demanding jobs, the professors noted.
In 2011, the latest data available, fewer than 0.5% of beneficiaries left disability rolls to work again. Most leave the program by advancing to the Society Security retirement program, or they die.
The Social Security Administration has run an initiative since 1999 called Ticket to Work that offers vocational rehabilitation, career counseling and job-placement help. But the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has repeatedly faulted the agency for failing to substantially boost participation: About 3% of those eligible were enrolled, a 2011 GAO study found.
Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen Goss said in an interview that the agency, by law, was geared toward providing "benefits to those with a longer-term, by-and-large permanent disability."
Social Security is committed to improving Ticket-to-Work, he said. In general, he said, his administrators are doing "a very good job with the staffing and resources that are available," given the surge in applications after the financial crisis.
Some disability experts suggest the government try tailoring special services and training for applicants most likely to return to work. "Right now, we have an income benefit that is not based on what you can do," said David Mann, a Mathematica researcher.
Mr. Mann, age 30, said many disabled people can work with the right help, and he included himself. Paralyzed in a diving accident as a teenager, he graduated from Princeton University and earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. He uses a motorized wheelchair to navigate Mathematica's Princeton, N.J., offices.
Social Security administrators have been unable to keep up with periodic medical evaluations of SSDI beneficiaries, according to the program's inspector general. The backlog of required assessments shrank last year to 1.3 million people from 1.5 million, according to government data.
Such medical reviews in 2011 found 23,271 people able to return to work out of more than 345,000. The inspector general estimated that overdue medical reviews between 2005 and 2011 cost taxpayers $1.9 billion to $3.7 billion in benefits that shouldn't have been paid.
Mr. Ottesen used to drive trucks for a Cincinnati produce business until he flunked a job-required physical exam and lost his job. He said he had been driving despite his back pain.
He was initially denied federal disability benefits, and, like many applicants, he hired a lawyer, at government expense, to appeal.
Social Security pays for such legal help, based on the idea that experts help move cases faster, helping hold down the application backlog. Last year, Social Security paid $1.4 billion in fees to disability advocates.
After Mr. Ottesen was approved for a monthly disability payment of about $1,100, he considered looking for another line of work, he said, but "I don't know anything but driving a truck."
Write to Leslie Scism at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jon Hilsenrath at email@example.com
[You can't fix these huge problems at the bottom because they are top problems, not bottom problems. You may get exceptional individuals who pull themselves up from the bottom by their bootstraps and work their way up. But systemically it's not happening and it's not going to happen. The top has all the power and sets the tone. If crime and corruption spread, it's because people just look up the pecking order and see it there - and then figure, hey if they're doin' it why shouldn't I try it?! And so The Problem is buried in the Chesterton Flaw: people wanting more than their share - and the failure of "advanced" societies to do something that was (and is) basic in every "primitive" society = to define fair share in the first place. Even the "primitive societies" of sports leagues reset their share definition every season when they start every team at zero games won. But the wealthy just go on year after year, decade after decade, century after century, accumulating wealth. Ancient societies all had some form of "jubiliee" to mitigate the dysfunctionality and danger of this phenomenon - not just in terms of being able to invisibly take out virtually any nonbillionaire they don't like but also in terms of decelerating unlimited percentages of the money supply and deactivating response to virtually any negative feedback. Ancient Hebrews had their small 7-year and great 50-year jubilees when debts were forgiven and slaves freed. Hopis have their redistributive social and katchina dances. The northwest coast tribes had their rebalancing potlatches. But in the "advanced" economies, the imbalance gets more and more extreme as the wealthy rely more and more heavily on government support (police support for the protection needs, court support for their own but others'-not-as-much contract enforcement, military support for their trade needs, monetary support for their bailout needs) while withdrawing more and more from the "running reset" of the tax system, whether income, investment, estate or inheritance tax, and thereby pushing ever more of the burden on everyone else, thus "comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted," as Krugman mentions today. Timesizing starts the gradual market-oriented distancing from this fast-approaching, fast-heightening cliff edge.]
4/25/2012 disability in the news (more recent items, if any, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
- Disability causes pain - Disabled workers received $128.9 billion last year, by Eduardo Porter, New York Times, B1.
Every year, when the trustees of Social Security and Medicare publish their report on the programs’ finances they set off a round of partisan bickering about the solvency of the twin programs covering pensions and health care for retired Americans.
Every year, a vitally important issue gets lost in the din: disability insurance payments, which account for almost $1 out of every $5 spent by Social Security, are growing out of control.
Disability insurance takes too many workers out of the job market prematurely. It reduces their lifetime income and, to top it off, slows economic growth. Yet in contrast to the heated arguments about Social Security and Medicare, fixing the disability problem inspires hardly any discussion.
The trustees reported Monday that the government made $128.9 billion in insurance payments to 10.6 million disabled workers and their family members last year, 25 percent more than it received from payroll taxes.
On top of that, 5 million adults received $33 billion worth of disability benefits from the Supplemental Security Income program for poor Americans.
[For a total of (10.6m+5m=) 15.6m Americans.]
Medicare spent more than $90 billion on benefits for disabled workers, who are eligible for the government health insurance after two years on disability, regardless of their age. And Medicaid spent $110 billion more on the poor disabled.
The disability program offers essential support for disabled workers — many of whom have no chance of holding another job. Some of its growth reflects changes in the population: we are growing older and becoming fragile with age. Similarly, disability rates among women should be expected to rise because more of them entered the work force.
But these factors account for only a small share of the growing cost. They fail to explain why the rolls of the disabled are expanding rapidly for men of all ages, even though Americans are generally in better health.
“The health of nonelderly Americans is improving consistently, and we have more technology to help people at work,” observed Mark Duggan, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania who has advised Social Security on the assumptions underpinning the trustees’ forecasts. “Yet every year the fraction of people on this program is growing.”
The breakneck growth in the disability program is not simply about demography. Rather, it is driven by two other factors: a job market that has become tough to navigate for workers with low skills, especially men, whose jobs have gone abroad or been taken by machines; and a basic flaw in the disability program that discourages people from ever working again.
In hard times, disability becomes an attractive alternative for unemployed people who might have toiled through back pain or depression if the job market were strong. A study of coal miners in Appalachia found that disability applications spiked when energy prices fell, underscoring how workers turn to the program as a response to layoffs. In 2009, when the unemployment rate rose to 10 percent, applications for disability jumped by a fifth.
The problem is that once someone goes on disability, it is extremely unlikely that that person will ever go back to work, regardless of job opportunities or medical condition. So disability can help turn a temporary stint of unemployment into a permanent condition.
The disability insurance program was meant for another era, in the late 1950s when working conditions were tougher and disabilities were expected to put an end to someone’s working life. It was hard to get into the program — for starters, it required applicants to be out of the labor force. Once a worker was accepted, nobody worried about trying to help him back into the work force. He was, after all, disabled.
In the mid-1980s, however, Congress softened the criteria. The Social Security Administration, which usually required medical diagnoses as proof of disability, was required to give more weight to subjective factors like pain. This opened the door for applicants who reported mental ailments like anxiety, or back pain and other muscular problems, claims more difficult to verify.
Collecting disability became even easier as rejected applicants were allowed to appeal before an administrative judge without anyone from Social Security present to defend its decision. So even though two-thirds of applicants were initially rejected, 50 to 60 percent ultimately joined the program.
And the rolls soared, outstripping population growth. There are 1.5 times more people on disability than there were in 1990.
[According to the 9/02/2002 article below, there were 3m people (extremely rounded!) on disability in 1990, so this "1.5 times" figure would mean 3m x1.5= only 4.5m today, but according to the 2002 article, there were already 5.43m in 2002, and according to earlier in this 2012 article, there are 10.6 million. So this "1.5 times" idea is way low.]
Almost one in 20 Americans from the ages of 25 to 64 [so how many are 25-64??] now collects benefits, more than twice the share of two decades ago. And the cost has risen in tandem. Disability outlays have grown about 5.6 percent a year after inflation in the last two decades, compared with just 2.2 percent for other Social Security spending.
Though the intent was laudable, Congressional efforts to help disabled workers were short-sighted. Crucially, lawmakers failed to consider the long-term effect of easing entry to a program that would take many young workers out of the job market for good. Congress offered nothing to help recipients into less physically demanding work that might be appropriate despite their disabilities. It offered nothing for employers who kept hurt workers in a job.
The trustees said on Monday that the disability fund will be exhausted by 2016, two years earlier than they estimated last year. Disability payments won’t stop. But once the fund is depleted, a bigger share of payroll taxes will be diverted from the fund that pays benefits to old age pensioners and their survivors.
The growth in disability payouts has other drawbacks. The payments hardly provide a living, at just over $1,100 a month, on average, plus Medicare coverage. Beneficiaries are allowed to earn up to about $1,000 more, but only about one in 10 makes any extra money. Though disability might offer a needed respite now, with unemployment exceeding 8 percent, keeping productive people out of work will harm the economy in the long run.
The good news is that the disability program is easier to fix. Unlike Social Security and Medicaid, whose financial strains are driven mostly by demographic forces, the disability program suffers from artificial woes that can be corrected. Fixing the system requires providing incentives to enable disabled workers to continue working if they can.
This doesn’t mean slashing benefits. But it does mean offering incentives so that disability is no longer the first, most desirable choice for an unemployed worker with a back problem. Mr. Duggan and David Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have suggested several ways to do this.
For instance, employers who send lots of workers into the disability program pay no more into the system than those who send none. This could change if employers were required to buy private insurance, whose premiums increase as more workers draw benefits. The public system’s finances would improve. And bosses would have an incentive to change working conditions or add rehabilitation programs to keep workers with physical and mental ailments on the job.
The disability program could also let workers apply for benefits while still working — encouraging them to take a less demanding job at a lower wage. And requirements to join the system could be tightened, including closer monitoring of recipients to check for improvements.
Despite growing concern about the budget deficit, nobody seems to have noticed disability’s billion-dollar inefficiencies. To be fair, disability payments create a barrier that politicians find hard to breach, lest they appear heartless and unfair by slowing enrollment and moving some people off payments.
Still, disability payments are not an effective solution to long-term unemployment. A good response might be a more generous form of earned income tax credit for adults with no dependents, something that would encourage disabled beneficiaries to work. And the system itself could be reconceived as a way to help the disabled cope in the job market and leave it only when they must.
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 argues that the nation must assure disabled citizens with “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.” Disability insurance does not live up to this standard.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @portereduardo
12/20/2010 1 item on disability (more recent items, if not above, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
- Rethinking disability insurance, letters to editor, NYT, A22.
By Asst. Commissioner Trish Marsik of the Bureau of Mental Health in the NYC Dept. of Health & Mental Hygiene:
.\.Re: "Making disability work" (column, Dec.10):...
Peter Orszag makes an excellent point about how people on disability insurance typically stay on it permanently even when they're capable of returning to work...
By insurance recovery lawyer William Passannante of NYC:
Peter Orszag is wise to worry that the current system for awarding federal disability benefits will help to make unemployment perpetual for millions of Americans...
[or at least separate themselves from..]
from the workplace longer than they might if they had other options... [this last wording by..]
By Exec.Dir. Jennifer Jaff of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, Farmington CT.
[And timesizing provides plenty of other options thanks to its conversion of overtime into jobs - and training wherever needed - and those jobs are at shorter "full time" workweeks that many more people with many more handicaps can handle with much more ease.]
12/10/2007 disability in the news (more recent items, if any, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
1/09/2004 1 item of 'disability news' (more recent items, if any, are on our homepage or homepage archives) -
- Disability cases last far longer as backlog rises - Reform plan stymied - Most appeals succeed, but waits can go on for years, by Erik Eckholm NYT, A1.
Steadily lengthening delays in the resolution of Social Security disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of people in a kind of purgatory, now waiting as long as three years for a decision.... The backlog...has soared to 755,000 [today] from 311,000 in in 2000 [and] will require $100m more than...the $9.6B that Bush has proposed for the 2008 fiscal year..\..and still more in the future..\.. The Social Security Administration['s] new plan [is] to hire 150 new appeals judges to whittle down the backlog.... There are 1,025 judges currentlyl at work, and the wait for an appeals hearing averages more than 500 days, compared with 258 in 2000....
The disability process is complex, and the standard for approval has, from the inception of the program in the 1950s, been intentionally strict to prevent malingering and drains on the treasury.
[The standard for approval is hardly strict when a local handyman could start acting nuts, hugging trees, get a letter from a friendly doctor and get on permanent disability with full Medicare at age 55. And what about the ex-nurse with that lovely home near the ocean in Rhode Island who developed "back problems" and went on permanent disability? Even so, the "drain on the Treasury" is hardly our biggest worry. Much much bigger are the drains from government bailouts of big companies, like Chrysler in the 1980s and the S&Ls in the early 90s, and the $2 billion of our taxpayer money wasted every week on the unnecessary and completely bungled "war" on Iraq, coupled with the billions lost or stolen in unbid contracts - all supposedly in response to 19 guys with boxcutters?]
In a recent interview, the commissioner of Social Security, Michael Astrue, said that outright fraud was rare....
Of the roughly 2.5m disability applicants each year now, about two-thirds are turned down initially by state agencies.... Most of those who are refused give up at that point or after a failed request for local reconsideration. But of the more than 575,000 who go on to file appeals...two-thirds eventually win a reversal....
If approved, those who have paid into Social Security receive income...averaging more than $1000 a month and potentially more. The poor, and severely disabled children, receive Supplemental Security Income checks that will be $637 a month in 2008....
In New York State, about half the 38,000 people now waiting on disability appeals, for an average of 21 months, are receiving cash assistance from the state, said Michael Hayes, spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance....
[And the overall population on disability is now...how many, and growing...how fast? Obvious questions. No info. Bad journalism.]
12/11/2003 disability news -
- Disability rates are up sharply, pointer (to A7), WSJ, front page.
...for working-age Americans over the past two decades, and obesity appears the prime suspect, Rand says.
Researchers link sharp rise in disability rates for younger adults to obesity, by Ron Winslow, WSJ, A7.
Disability among Americans in the prime of their working lives has risen sharply in the past two decades, another consequence of the nation's obesity epidemic.
Researchers at the Rand Corp., the nonprofit Santa Monica CA thinktank, found a 40-50% rise in recent years in the number of people from the ages of 30 to 49 whose ability to care for themselves or perform routine tasks was limited by disability.... The study appears in the current issue of the journal Health Affairs..\.. Several factors may be contributing to the rise in disability, says Dana Goldman, director of health economics at Rand and the principal investigator on the study. But there is "evidence to support that obesity may be a primary reason," he says....
[Never mind the deepening dearth of jobs and the fact that they got kicked off welfare at the 5-year lifetime limit.]
11/25/2003 some good 'disability news' -
- Democrats and the disabled, by Albert Hunt (one of whose 3 children is severely disabled), Wall Street Journal, A19.
"Disability" covers any individual with "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities." Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], 1991 [blowout].
...If the High Court follows its recent decisions, it'll...further chip away at the protections of the ADA, enacted in 1991, the most notable of the first President Bush's domestic legacies. More than a few of the judges tapped by his son want to further dismantle much of this landmark legislation.
There are 53 million disabled Americans, half of them severely afflicted....
[53m sounds way high to us, but maybe only a fraction of them are on disability benefits. That would, after all, be one in every six Americans (current official population, c.290m).]
Conservatives used to rail against judicial activism, but now the[ir own activist judges] are dismantling the disabilities protections enacted by Congress, often under the [cloak] of states' rights. ... Sound familiar?...
The real agenda of these conservative activists is, under the guise of states' rights, to eviscerate the power of Congress to expand civil rights for minorities.
The disabled are the most visible victims of this effort; that should be a campaign issue in 2004. Simply put,
- should the rights and protections of tens of millions of Americans with disabilities be legislatively and legally expanded
- or should they be curtailed by a bunch of activist judges?
9/18/2003 disability news -
- Barriers toppling for disabled medical students - Balancing the needs of students without sacrificing [patient] safety, by Linda Villarosa, NYT, D5.
...In the past, students with physical disabilities were rarely accepted to medical school, and they rarely completed it. But now...a growing number of students with disabilities...are thriving in medical school. ...The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 allowed disabled students access to every level of education.... A survey of the American Council on Education notes that the number of full-time freshmen with disabilities has increased to 11% from 7% from 1988 1998. "As a result," \said\ Martha Smith, project coordinator of the Center on Self-Determination of Oregon Health & Science University..."these college students with disabilities are part of the next wave of students who say 'I can go on to professional schools.'..."
4/29/2003 disability news -
- Avis plans free add-ons for disabled - Disabled Americans spend $13.6B on 32m trips each year, by Kortney Stringer, WSJ, D10.
...a Harris Interactive survey found.... The study estimated that travelers with disabities would spend at least twice what they currently spend on travel and tourism annually if airlines, hotels and other travel activities were more accessible and accommodating....
11/29/2002 disability news -
- More disabled say care falls short, by Kelly Greene, WSJ, D4.
The number of older, disabled people with unmet medical needs is rising, with many requiring more help with basic activities and desiring more of a say in their care, according to AARP. One-third [33%] of 1,102 people with disabilities surveyed, all of whom were at least 50, said they had postponed needed healthcare in the past 12 months because they couldn't afford it....
[Haven't we all! But doncha love the way the Wall Street Journal makes it sound like they have a choice? "They posponed it" - till when? Postponement implies choice and It's not a "postponement" when it's put off forever. That's a steep increase from the 21% of disabled people who said they were postponing care 5 years ago in a survey conducted by the same pollster, Harris Interactive Inc., Rochester NY. The latest survey was conducted in September, as part of a larger report on independent living and disability that AARP released today.
...Disability rates have fallen slightly for the 65-plus population in recent years.... Amoung the survey respondents,
Almost half of those surveyed were receiving help with daily activities, such as cooking, bathing or shopping, most often from unpaid family members.... The study has a margin of error of 3%....
- 68% had a disability limiting their physical mobility,
- 21% had a vision or hearing impairment,
- and 18% had a cognitive or emotional condition....
9/02/2002 disability news -
- New York says those on welfare are increasingly hard to employ - Hindered by addiction, AIDS or disability, by Leslie Kaufman, NYT, front page.
As the willing and...able have been prodded off public assistance...they have left behind peers hobbled by addiction, disability and AIDS..\..NYC officials say..., a complaint that is increasingly voiced by welfare administrators across the country.... The number of people on public assistance with AIDS in NYC has nearly doubled in the last 3 years and now hovers at nearly 14,000. The city exempts all HIV-symptomatic individuals from any work and training requirements to get their benefits. The Bush plan offers no such wholesale exemptions for them..\.. More than half of public assistance cases involve individuals who meet the city definition of being capable of only limited work or no work at all. Even those able-bodied people still on the welfare rolls are increasingly likely to be illiterate or to stubbornly refuse work assignments despite fiscal penalties, city officials say.
Since 1996, when the city began requiring able-bodied welfare recipients to work for their benefits, the number of people receiving public assistance has plummeted by more than two-thirds. Now, city officials say, comes the hard part. "...We have gotten down to a core group that is mostly willing but not always able to go to work...," said the commissioner of the city's HR Administration, Verna Eggleston. The agency administers the federal welfare program and Safety Net, the program for the impoverished who have exceeded the 5-year federal limit or otherwise do not qualify for federal funds.
...Part of the dispute between the city and the federal government...revolves around who should be exempt from work. pResident Bush's plan calls for 70% of those receiving federal welfare dollars to be engaged in some kind of work activity. The plan exempts people over 60, women with children under 3 months, and children who are eligible for aid but whose parents are not eligible, for example, because they are not citizens. If the standards under the proposed Bush plan were in place today, the city's HR Administration calculates, the city would have only 45% of the eligible caseload working.
..\..Former officials of the Giuliani administration say the "unengageable" element of the welfare population is rising because the city is playing reclassification games. For example, individuals with relatively mild disabilities like asthma or arthritis, who were counted as able-bodied 3 years ago, are now counted among those whose work abilities are restricted....
Beyond the issue of defining who should be considered able to work, city officials say there is the question of just how flexible the program that brings these people to work should be, and how to define work. The Bush administration's plan, for example, gives addicts 3 months of recovery time in which they are exempt from work requirements. But the city [says] drug and alcohol abusers, for example, can be in residential treatment programs for up to a year and be considered, in effect, [employed] by the city....
But substance abuse is just one of many areas in which there is dispute over what kind of programs can be counted as work. In recent years, the city has started a therapy and job training program called Pride, which is mandatory for those on welfare with disabilities severe enough to affect whether they can work but too mild to get them income support from the federal government. ...The catch..is that the therapy part of Pride would not currently be counted toward meeting the 40-hour workweek under the Bush program....
Report: NYC welfare cases hard to employ, AP 11/29/02 05:17 EST.
...Welfare rolls have dropped by 2/3 since 1996, when the city began requiring that able-bodied people on public assistance work up to 35 hours a week in exchange for benefits....
- Laid-off workers swelling the cost of disability pay - Most from low-end jobs - Number rose by 2.4, NY Times, front page.
[So here's the major source of the disability surge. And last year's 5.42m has become 5.7m on disability (Jim Lehrer's News Hour, PBS 7/29/2003). Disability is another distortion in our society caused by our failure to design and implement a mechanism to automatically adjust our workweek downward as our worksaving technology mounts upward, and spread the free-time benefits to all Americans in the form of easier full-time employment and financially secure leisure rather than stressed-out overwork next to financially anxious under-employment.]
Millions of low-skilled workers have turned to federal disability pay as a refuge from layoffs in recent years, doubling the benefit's cost and, with little notice, making it by far the government's biggest income-support program.
Most of those qualifying for the benefits, part of the Social Security system, never got past highschool and held jobs like factory worker, waitress, store clerk, laborer or healthcare aide. Their numbers have grown to 5.42 million today from 3m in 1990, swelling the program's costs to $60 billion last year. That far surpasses unemployment insurance or food stamps or any other similar program. "Show me a highschool dropout, particularly a male, who is over the age of 40 and is not working and there is a 40-45% chance that he is on SocSec disability insurance," said David Autor, an economist at MIT.
It's not that disabling injuries are occurring more frequently. Research by a number of economists indicates that the growing numbers signal instead a reliance on disability benefits by low-end workers who had ignored their ailments as long as their limited skills brought them steady employment. Some who would have gone on welfare [if it hadn't been "reformed"] now apply for disability pay instead. "When you are a person who has lost a job, and you can't find another, and you are home sitting on the couch," said [Judge] Morley White, an administrative law judge in Cleveland who rules on disability claims, "you become preoccupied with ailments that do qualify in many cases as legal disability but while you were working did not come into your mind."
[The dumbing of America proceeds apace. We have not only made it easier for people to earn a dishonest living than an honest one - hence our world record prison population, 2.1m in lockup, 6.6m including probation/parole - but we have apparently made it easier to people to be parasitic hypochondriacs than handicapped self-supporters. This is what our much-touted " low unemployment rate" doesn't tell. Maybe this frontpage article in the NY Times will wake up English-speaking economists to the fact that "time is of the essence" and if we don't share the vanishing worktime and cut the outdated thinking about "technology creates more jobs than it destroys" and the attempts to ridicule the "lump of labor fallacy" - which is actually a shrinking employment truism at current levels of worksaving technology - our bloated prison-industrial complex and swollen disability rolls are going to get even worse. For many of us, George Dubya has already made it embarrassing to be an American, far surpassing the "Ugly American" syndrome of the 50s and 60s. How much further do we want this to go? It's no longer a mystery what kind of design mechanism we need at the center of our economy to automatically balance our share of market-demanded work per person. That design challenge has been solved by the Timesizing program. We already have two major and hosts of minor American companies that practice this approach, at least in primitive form. But what will it take to jog our economists and analysts into this way of thinking? They are sooo far from it now, they are wandering in a desert of ineffectuality. With them clogging the media, we will never made any signficant human progress. They refuse to even think about the problems of the concentration of wealth or even the concentration of work and skills. Everything is supposed to be solved by mere growth and expansion, and in the GDP, they count as "growth" some pretty gross and destructive, even self-destructive, behavior. Their world and their imaginations are small. Their homo economicus is a ridiculous caricature. They pull six-figure salaries for nothing. When will they get off their fat mental butts and make some serious contributions to human progress?]
Neither Congress nor the White House has challenged the skyrocketing cost of disability insurance, which will go up an additional $9 billion this year, reaching $69 billion, the Social Security Administration estimates.
[If we don't start making it easier for Americans to support themselves, we taxpayers are going to have to do it, and do it with bigger and bigger taxes. And at our levels of technology, we probably need a definition of "full-time employment" that is only 20-30 hours a week per person. Instead, we're lengthening the workweek per person, as Juliet Schor points out in today's op eds.]
By comparison, the agency expects to pay out $382 billion in traditional old-age pensions in 2002. [Although it] finances both pensions and disability payments through the same payroll tax...the debate on the financial health of Soc Sec has focused on the much larger pension system.
[Guess the disabled have been a little private preserve of votes for whoever quietly favors the system.]
...The surge in the disability rolls started with the early 1990s recession, and the numbers climbed steadily as layoffs became more common, even in the boom years of the late 90s.
[So much for the much vaunted American "efficiency" of layoffs and the supposedly "reformed" American work rules that we're constantly trying to shove down Europe's throat.]
Hard times over the last 18 months produced another surge in the disability rolls, which grew by nearly 400,000 people in that period, unevenly across the country. State officials process the disability claims, acting as agents for Soc Sec, and some states have been more generous than others. "In tough times, there is a tendency at the state level to cut people a little slack," said Charles Jeszeck, a labor economist at the GAO.
The rising numbers of people on disability take some of the gloss off the prosperity of the late 1990s. Unemployment fell and in the [supposedly] tight labor markets, jobs went begging, even at the low-paying end.
[Why shouldn't jobs go begging at the low-paying end when so many of our children in poverty have parents with multiple low-paying jobs? If you can't make ends meet on the low-paying end, you look for some alternative - disability, crime, homelessness, suicide.]
But the Labor Dept. counts as unemployed only those people actively seeking new jobs. When people stop looking and drop out, including people who go on the disability rolls, they no longer count as unemployed.
[Hence the rose-colored glasses with which America looks in the mirror.]
Those dropouts surged...in the late 1990s. There were so many of them that if they had been counted..., the unemployment rate would have been higher, perhaps by as much as half a percentage point, according to new reserach by Dr. Autor and Mark Duggan, a U. or Chic. economist....
The 5.42m people on disability pay, receiving $819 a month on average, is equal to 4% of those who hold jobs today. That increased from 2.5% in 1990, after barely rising at all in the 1980s, although Congress broadened the definition of disability and made proving it easier in 1984. It became particularly easier in the cases of back trouble and mental health problems, which can now include depression, manic behavior and other "mood disorders." Back trouble and mental stress are the two most cited ailments in disability awards....
[We know a lady on Rhode Island shore who's on disability for "back trouble," yet she's out in her garden daily, tending and bending.]
75% of those on disability have [only] a highschool diploma or less education, the Soc Sec Admin reports. Their limited skills mean they are often still without a job 5 months after being laid off - the minimum time required to file for disability pay.
[Of course, the grasping executives of the 80s and 90s, undisciplined by labor shortage, cut training budget after training budget and passed along the costs of training to taxpayers and individual job applicants. This is one of the big changes in the Timesizing program.]
Magnifying the problem, the low skilled find themselves mostly holding jobs that require physical exertion, Judge [Morely] White said, and any ailment becomes an obstacle to landing the next job. So they turn to disability....
[So the disability program functions essentially as a government subsidy on illness, and as Milton Friedman says, whatever you subsidize, you get more of.]
...On a windy day on the docks in April 1997, a rear door of a tractor-trailer swung into [Gregory] Jordan's back. "I completely blew a disk out," Mr. Jordan said, explaining that he had gone back to work after the accident and had continued on the job until Christmas, when the pain finally forced him into a hospital and he learned the extent of his injury. Workmen's compensation payments soon started, and they will continue alongside the disability checks.
[Aha, so workmen's comp is different from and parallel to Soc Sec disability, and you can get both.]
Like old-age pensions, disability pay is based on former earnings and not on need, as welfare is.... "No employer is going to hire me and take on the liability that I represent," Mr. Jordan said....
[So now we see another dimension of FDR's tragic mistake in 1933. He turned away from work sharing, which would have balanced, for the level of technology of the time, job seekers and job openings, would have disciplined employers by making them anxious enough for employees that they would implement on-the-job training all over the place (as they did later when disciplined by the War), and would have played to America's strengths all round, and instead, FDR played to America's weaknesses, with government intervention in industrial accidents a la Workmen's Comp and Social Security disability, government intervention in old age a la Soc Sec old-age pensions and government intervention in unemployment a la Unemployment Insurance and government intervention in poverty a la minimum wage. Not to mention the alphabet soup of artificial government makework programs like the WPA, CCC, NRA, TVA.... - when all he had to do was referee the private sector and keep it in better trim, job seekers with job openings, by sharing the vanishing work, thus making the private sector clean up its own mess and take responsibility for its own infirmities, instead of passing more and more of the costs of that mess and those infirmities onto the taxpayer. And later the 30-hour workweek could have been indexed to technological advance via comprehensive unemployment so it would adjust automatically to any rise in unemployment, welfare, disability, forced retirement, incarceration.... In short, it could have been gradually design-enhanced toward some variation on the Timesizing program design.]
"Pain is the most argued thing in disability cases," Judge White said, adding that "98% of the people who come before me truly believe they are disabled."
[This is the most insidious thing about these programs. They subtly encourage one to accentuate the negative.]
The rules require a disability applicant to have held a paid job for a total of 5 of the previous 10 years and to have earned wages for 25% of the time since age 22. The earnings in these years then become the basis for calculating disability.
- ...Soc Sec officials attribute the rise [in the disability rolls] to the large number of aging baby boomers.
- In addition, many women have gone to work, thus becoming eligible for benefits.
[Notice that this arbitrary age setting of 22 means that the US government has, in this legislation, set a nationwide lower-limit standard on worklife per person.]
...Despite the baby boomers [however,] the average age of people on disability has fallen.
One approach to trimming the [disability] rolls that might not be dismissed as mean spirited is a proposal by Kenneth Apfel, a commissioner of the Soc Sec Admin in the Clinton years, that would combine disability pay with retraining and part-time work....
- ...Younger people increasingly qualify on the ground of mental illness.
[Great, we're subsidizing mental illness among Americans. What a way to strengthen the future of a nation!]
- With the average age falling, the disabled are remaining on the rolls longer, and that has swelled the numbers.
- Congress helped in this process by making it harder for Soc Sec officials to declare people cured and no longer eligible for disability.
[And we have the nerve to criticize Europe for needing "labor market reforms"?! "Physician, heal thyself!"]
- ...Lawyers [now] increasingly help applicants with their claims, earning fees if the claims are awarded.
- The disability payments themselves have been rising at a faster rate than the pay of most low-end workers,
[thanks to our frozen 1940-era workweek]
gradually making paid employment less attractive for the unskilled, said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economist.
- There's another lure, particularly for the unskilled who often work without company-paid health insurance.
[And according to a recent news item, that category is increasing.]
Two years after the disability checks begin to arrive, Medicare coverage kicks in free.
[So America is going to get its shorter workweek in the worst possible, most poverty-spreading way, by having spoiled employers convert full-timers to part-time to save on benefits, especially health insurance, and then America is going to get its universal single-payer health insurance in the worst possible way, by incentivizing the working poor to go on disability and after two years of that, automatically get Medicare. Brilliant.]
[A good idea but still, just another over-specific bandaid for another over-specific problem. We have a huge general problem, another aspect of which is sicktime overuse leading to disability-system overuse, the focus of 9/03/2000 #2. The problem is too many people who need to support themselves and too few market-demanded jobs at the 40-or-more-hours/week level to allow them all to support themselves. Let's quit kidding around, and share the vanishing work - let's cut the workweek, using a flexible market-based system such as Timesizing. Then we can gradually dismantle all these costly and overlapping detailed programs that are trying to solve a big top-central problem at the bottom and sides, and having the opposite effect to what is intended: they're spreading pain and costs, not reducing them.]
4/30/2000 disability news -
- [if true, a positive item -]
Employers are reaching out for disabled workers to fill positions in tight labor market, by Diane Lewis, Boston Globe, F8.
Allan Feldman, a disabled employee from Work Inc. in Quincy, has worked at the Sears, Roebuck store in Braintree for three years. [photo caption]
...With competition for workers at a record high,
[What planet is Diane living on? The competition for workers was at record highs only during the world wars. This may be a stock bubble, but there's still a record labor surplus throughout the global economy. However, if what slight reduction in under-employment this bubble has occasioned is actually helping the disabled, great! We saw on Monday that it seems to be helping ex-convicts - see "With unemployment low, a new group is in demand: Ex-cons," 4/24/2000.]
employers are turning to people with disabilities to fill mainstream entry-level jobs as well as positions requiring top skills.
[Betcha this is news to a lot of disabled people.]
The Bureau of National Affairs Inc., a research information group and think tank in DC, reports that nearly 40% of US employers have had trouble finding professional and technical workers, 1½ times higher than it was two years ago.
[But employers are by now so spoiled by labor surplus, they expect to pluck the exactly right employee off the rack with no training. And this think tank is probably employer-oriented, not to say -biassed.]
As a result, more employers are reaching out to workers they might not have considered in the past. "Companies are more willing to hire people with disabilities now than they have ever been in the past, but there are not enough applicants to meet the demand," said Hank Cheney [no relation to Dick we hope], president of Work Inc., a Quincy vocational training, placement, and advocacy organization.
[He's da mon to contact, folks - he thinks there's a shortage of you, sooo his numbers in Boston area 617 are... 439-0431, 723-2088, 443-0441 (Boston proper) and 254-4094 (Brighton) from the Verizon 2001-2002 phonebook.]
The nonprofit agency serves about 1,000 disabled clients daily. Of those, 600 are in training and employment programs. The remainder  work at private companies or have been placed in residential programs and are not employed.
Five years ago, Work Inc. placed approximately 50 to 80 people in entry-level jobs per year. This year, it expects to place 200. "Getting someone who is able to work, helping them to find a job, and knowing that they will be able to keep it is really our goal," Cheney said. "Our best are always leaving us, which is what we want to see. As they become skilled, they move on. The goal is to always keep people moving forward."
Charles Riley II, editor in chief of NYC-based WE Magazine for people with disabilities, had difficulty finding companies to interview when he published his first list of the best employers to work for. "I had to go out and find them," he said. "Now those companies come to us. So things have changed tremendously...."
Riley credits two factors with driving the current push for inclusion: the low unemployment rate and the recent passage of The Work Incentives Improvement Act, viewed by workplace activists as the first bill to address the many employment concerns of disabled Americans. It is also the most far-reaching legislation for the disabled since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act a decade ago.
The measure, signed into law by Pres. Clinton in December, awards states $150m over five years to develop programs that offer support for disabled residents who want to work. Even more important, the bill permits workers with disabilities to keep their Medicaid and Medicare benefits while they are employed. In the past, once a disabled person was accepted into the Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income Program, he became eligible for Medicare or Medicaid but could earn no more than $700 per month. If s/he earned more, financial support from the government was cut off....
Although the US unemployment rate is now 4.1%, the lowest in 30 years, the unemployment rate among the nation's 54m [compared later figure of 5.4m and then 5.7m on disability benefits - so this 54m, which would be 19% of a total US population of 280m (one in five Americans disabled??), may be a misprint for 5.4m] disabled residents of working age is now 71%, reports the National Organization on Disability in DC....
This year, the list \of\ the top 10 firms for disabled employees to work for...included: Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Caterpillar, Charles Schwab, Ford and Booz-Allen Hamilton....
For the core design of a better, better integrated and oriented society, our handbook Timesizing, Not Downsizing is available from *Amazon.com online or at *Porter Sq. Books, Cambridge, Mass. 02140, USA.
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