In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.
The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. The vast majority of people on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.
In other words, people on disability don’t show up in any of the places we usually look to see how the economy is doing. But the story of these programs — who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that — is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.
For the past six months, I’ve been reporting on the growth of federal disability programs. I’ve been trying to understand what disability means for American workers, and, more broadly, what it means for poor people in America nearly 20 years after we ended welfare as we knew it. Here’s what I found.
much much more… http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/
Somewhere around 30 years ago, the economy started changing in some fundamental ways. There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country.
Politicians pay lip service to this problem during election cycles, but American leaders have not sat down and come up with a comprehensive plan. In the meantime, federal disability programs became our extremely expensive default plan. The two big disability programs, including health care for disabled workers, cost some $260 billion a year.
Disability payments are being used to keep “phony” unemployment figures low, (people on disability do not count as unemployed) and to hide the huge number of uneducated, unemployed and poor in the U.S. ….
The “Racket” that saves states Beaucoup Bucks:
A person on welfare costs a state money. That same resident on disability doesn’t cost the state a cent, because the federal government covers the entire bill for people on disability. So states can save money by shifting people from welfare to disability. And the Public Consulting Group is glad to help.
PCG is a private company that states pay to comb their welfare rolls and move as many people as possible onto disability.
“What we’re offering is to work to identify those folks who have the highest likelihood of meeting disability criteria,” Pat Coakley, who runs PCG’s Social Security Advocacy Management team, told me. The company has an office in eastern Washington state that’s basically a call center, full of headsetted women in cubicles who make calls all day long to potentially disabled Americans, trying to help them discover and document their disabilities:
“The high blood pressure, how long have you been taking medications for that?” one PCG employee asked over the phone the day I visited the company. “Can you think of anything else that’s been bothering you and disabling you and preventing you from working?”
The PCG agents help the potentially disabled fill out the Social Security disability application over the phone. And by help, I mean the agents actually do the filling out. When the potentially disabled don’t have the right medical documentation to prove a disability, the agents at PCG help them get it. They call doctors’ offices; they get records faxed. If the right medical records do not exist, PCG sets up doctors’ appointments and calls applicants the day before to remind them of those appointments.
PCG also works very, very hard to make the people who work at the Social Security happy. Whenever the company wins a new contract, Coakley will personally introduce himself at the local Social Security Administration office, and see how he can make things as easy as possible for the administrators there.
“We go through even to the point, frankly, of do you like things to be stapled or paper-clipped?” he told me. “Paper clips wins out a lot of times because they need to make photocopies and they don’t want to be taking staples out.”
There’s a reason PCG goes to all this trouble. The company gets paid by the state every time it moves someone off of welfare and onto disability. In recent contract negotiations with Missouri, PCG asked for $2,300 per person. For Missouri, that’s a deal — every time someone goes on disability, it means Missouri no longer has to send them cash payments every month. For the nation as a whole, it means one more person added to the disability rolls.