I wrote about this last fall when both 60 Minutes and NPR did stories about how Social Security’s Disability rolls are, supposedly, out of control, stuffed with hard-luck cases turning to Disability for want of anything else to do. Aside from the fact that there are a dozen complex reasons why more people are on Disability than there were a few years ago … still only a fraction of Americans who have disabilities … these stories and the more recent “concerns” assume things about employment and Social Security Disability that don’t stand up to deeper thought:
- The idea that there is a job out there for everyone, and that if you don’t have a job, it’s because you aren’t trying hard enough.
- That if we could somehow drastically narrow the entry gate for Social Security Disability so that only the “really" disabled could get it, all the people cut out would just get jobs or, somehow, find other benefits.
- The notion that there is some common sense, obvious difference between “truly” disabled people … who are sympathetic, honest, and deserving of help, and the sad-sack, inadequate, possibly lazy, and not really disabled losers who use Disability, cynically, because the system allows them to.
There are other issues involved, some of them legitimate and worth careful, thoughtful study. For instance, there are still disincentives to working for people with disabilities on benefits who want to work and have the potential, and not enough people know about the work incentives that are already available.
I’m afraid that instead we will get hysteria and shaming, plus a noxious dose of “divide and conquer”, as “real” disabled people are encouraged to resent the “fake” disabled … people with chronic pain and fatigue, learning disabilities, psychiatric conditions, workplace injuries that won’t heal but aren’t immediately visible, and of course older people with any number of chronic conditions who also happen to have lost their jobs and can’t find new ones.
Meanwhile, only a very few brave advocates and politicians are willing to propose the novel idea that maybe the rise in need means we should be spending more on Disability. Maybe … just a thought.
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