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Michael Barone
Michael Barone
12 Feb 2016
New Hampshire's Rebuke

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Now that the results of last Monday's Iowa caucuses are in, speculation naturally turns to next Tuesday's New … Read More.

Men Find Careers in Collecting Disability


Americans are very generous to people with disabilities. Since passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, millions of public and private dollars have been spent on curb cuts, bus lifts and special elevators.

The idea has been to enable people with disabilities to live and work with the same ease as others, as they make their way forward in life. I feel sure the large majority of Americans are pleased that we are doing this.

But there is another federal program for people with disabilities that has had an unhappier effect. This is the disability insurance (DI) program, which is part of Social Security.

The idea is to provide income for those whose health makes them unable to work. For many years, it was a small and inexpensive program that few people or politicians paid much attention to.

In his recent book, "A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic," my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has shown how DI has grown in recent years.

In 1960, some 455,000 workers were receiving disability payments. In 2011, the number was 8,600,000. In 1960, the percentage of the economically active 18-to-64 population receiving disability benefits was 0.65 percent. In 2010, it was 5.6 percent.

Some four decades ago, when I was a law clerk to a federal judge, I had occasion to read briefs in cases appealing denial of disability benefits. The Social Security Administration then seemed pretty strict in denying benefits in dubious cases. The courts were not much more openhanded.

Things have changed. Americans have grown healthier, and significantly lower numbers die before 65 than was the case a half-century ago. Nevertheless, the disability rolls have ballooned.

One reason is that the government seems to have gotten more openhanded with those claiming vague ailments. Eberstadt points out that in 1960, only one-fifth of disability benefits went to those with "mood disorders" and "muscoskeletal" problems. In 2011, nearly half of those on disability voiced such complaints.

"It is exceptionally difficult — for all practical purposes, impossible," writes Eberstadt, "for a medical professional to disprove a patient's claim that he or she is suffering from sad feelings or back pain."

In other words, many people are gaming or defrauding the system.

This includes not only disability recipients but health care professionals, lawyers and others who run ads promising to get you disability benefits.

Between 1996 and 2011, the private sector generated 8.8 million new jobs, and 4.1 million people entered the disability rolls.

The ratio of disability cases to new jobs has been even worse during the sluggish recovery from the 2007-09 recession. Between January 2010 and December 2011, there were 1,730,000 new jobs and 790,000 new people collecting disability.

This is not just a matter of laid-off workers in their 50s or early 60s qualifying for disability in the years before they become eligible for Social Security old age benefits.

In 2011, 15 percent of disability recipients were in their 30s or early 40s. Concludes Eberstadt, "Collecting disability is an increasingly important profession in America these says."

Disability insurance is no longer a small program. The government transfers some $130 billion obtained from taxpayers or borrowed from purchasers of Treasury bonds to disability beneficiaries every year.

But 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.

I use the masculine pronoun intentionally, because an increasing number of American men have dropped out of the workforce altogether. In 1948, 89 percent of men age 20 and over were in the workforce.

In 2011, 73 percent were. Only a small amount of that change results from an aging population. Jobs have become physically less grueling and economically more rewarding than they were in 1948.

The Americans With Disabilities Act helped many people move forward and contribute to society. The explosive growth of disability insurance has had an opposite effect.

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;...Disability insurance for the disabled is a triffling amount; enough, perhaps to provide for a very frugal existence... Rather looking at the glass half empty, why not consider all those like my family who raised a disabled child into productive adulthood without ever having a government dime... My parents were not ignorant about much, but they might have been told by all the doctors who saw my brother for his Polio that such help was available... We paid our bills, we got by with less, and even today my brother drags himself through a productive working life 80% paralyzed...
Where we grew up, people were so poor that we were relatively well off... A little bit of extra money in the bank would have been great... When I was young, and I was younger than my brother, people would simply give my brother money out of kindness and sympathy... But my mother was too proud to let any child of hers become a begger, so she would slap his hand, and give him a hard time to boot- if he took any... Before the Bridge which was a great event in Michigan history, and one my family helped to construct, we were on a ferry boat on our way to the U.P., and an older couple gave my brother a dollar when a dollar was easily ten dollars today... That was no easy task...My brother did everything but fake a fit to keep from taking that dollar, and all the while I was estimating all the candy bars and soda pops we might share with it... And I was little, but I understood money and what you were without it, which was a close relative of dirt... Finally, my brother gave up, and took the money, and when the couple departed, he with his crutchwalk, dragging his legs behind made his way to the side of that ship, and dropped that money over the side... I don't know if I ever fully trusted that guy's mind afterwords, but you have to understand that my parents were as hard as life and a great depression could make anyone... Good people, I guess, far too concerned with the respect of their community, and very often unconcerned with the hardship of their children as just their cross to bear...
Now, I am as strong as any man may be raised to be his brother's keeper... But I have carried a bad back out of that childhood of lifting, dragging, pushing, and carrying my brother through life... And when I had had enough, my younger brothers took over for me... We all helped... But my back has been on the verge of stopping me, of making a normal life impossible, and when it first got real bad it was on the job because a dumass foreman, trying to keep his piece count high, left out elevator shaft iron that not even two people could put in safely, and only one man could pickup and get into place, and that was me, dead lifting well over two hundred pounds, twisting my upper body this way to clear one column, walking twenty feet with it and turning my upper body to clear another column, and then straight on, over another elevator shaft on doubled planks to the second shaft until the iron was laid out for that one, and then for both... The next day I could barely walk... I needed help getting off my hands and knees... I could not sit down without help around to get me vertical...
I ate that one... I did not get workman's comp... I never got workman's comp in thirty years of ironwork, and I worked injured a bunch, though not often, because I was no joe...Once I was standing on a four by four as the crane lifted a load off it...The four by was cut out of the edge of the tree and it rolled, meaning my foot rolled, and all my weight with tools landed my ankle, on checker plate after a drop of four inches...I couldn't get my boot tied for two week, and black and blue travelled half way up my leg... I connected that job though I could barely stand...
Not everyone has their hand out, but judging from my back issues that still plague me, much of it is deserved...Working people put their lives into their jobs and a lot of times they do not get their lives back whole... They can do stupid stuff not working that incapacitates them from work... It would be better for the sake of those people who must do the job if those who could not do the job were paid to stay away...
It takes a great deal of foresight, and intelligence to keep a job safe, to recognize hazzards, and to protect fellow workers... Bosses trying to run everyone up own their butttholes to make a profit very often do not get the big picture of how much incapacity destroys lives and families... One man I knew well, who contracted at times, like myself, told me from the perspective of the employer it is better that a man should die than be seriously injured because death is a fixed rather than a variable cost... It is hard from a subjective point of view to choose between the two... Would I rather be dead, or seriously injured??? I just can't make up my mind... But I have known good people seriously injured, who suffered just one closed head injury that took the entire meaning of life from them in a moment... Gone...Poof...
One man I knew and hurt like that was a helova connector... His name was Gonzolas, and we called him Speedy... He was a great guy... He had a beautiful wife and children, and I never got around to asking him what he thought of his new career as an invalid with a side job as target for your abuse... People like you doing nothing harder than picking up your eye lids to cast a jaundice glance at humanity could suffer a little sympathy for the many wasted and sidelined of our- get it at all cost -society...
I used to tell people to work till it hurts... Jeezes Christ... I am not even sixty, and I hurt all the time... I can count my bones and my moans and groans are the music of my night to which I toss and turn... People buying my labor got it cheap for it cost me dearly... And I have a pension; but the way things are going, my pension will means test me out of social security so I was working for nothing but getting by...It has been an education to learn how much greedy bastards can screw up this world and hang the cost on poor people without the defense of a decent government..
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Tue Dec 4, 2012 7:48 AM
Good thoughts, Michael. Thanks for reminding us of this shameful practice.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Doug Morelly
Tue Dec 4, 2012 1:19 PM
Re: Doug Morelly;... What shameful practice do you have in mind??? Is it making vague and insupportable statements like: In other words, many people are gaming or defrauding the system...
Your Michael has not proved the first case of fraud, and while I believe there may be some cases, Mr. Borone is preaching nonsense to the converted to nonsense in the house of lord nonsense... My poor brother who was only on social security disability while is business school when he might have been on it most of his life, and might well be on it today if he so chose, preferred to have some actual income instead of a starvation wage of disability... He could not have afforded a wife, or a child, a home or a car on disability...
No one is getting rich on this money if you exclude all the landlords and grocers who raise their prices to bleed the market...If you consider it from the perspective of the many people laid low by illness, by exposure to chemicals in the work place, home, or environment, to have a need through no fault of your owned, but be considered by Mr. Barone and the fools who attend him as dishonorable bordering on criminal is an outrage, and a shame...
If you can prove such people seeking a survival existence are defrauding anyone, then accuse them, point the finger of fate at them, demand justice and raise the hue and cry as is your ancient obligation...The real criminals are easy to see here...There is no reason anyone with or without an excuse, cannot rely on the commonwealth for their support... It is a vast and great land, and we are a people who have seen our commonwealth go into private hands, and if there in private hands- if it will not support the population it should be returned...
If people are willing, or are out of necessity are denied the recreation of creation, then they can be easily supported on the margins of society...
We should never forget about the maimed of society, that they are human, or forget our humane responsibility to them; but to be brutally honest: If those who would be productive, who are forced into a frantic productivity by necessity, would have a safe and efficient work place, they must exclude the many who are not fit to work, having not the morale, or the physic for it... You cannot expect old people to be better workers than lovers and no one would have some wrinkled raisin on crooked wobbly legs to make a good lover of...
I could tell you any fair mechanic could be an ironworker if he was prepared to never let his shirt tail hit him on the ass... The virtues and vices that make such people makes them unfit for polite society, and even the nerve required to ride the economic rollercoaster of construction is unusual, for many who try will heave their lunch, and find a safer job... But stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear some times unravel people if they have any loose ends...
Necessity makes more ironworkers than talent, but this is true of many jobs which would never be done for the fun of doing them...People can spend a huge portion of their lives on some meaningless task that they give meaning to by doing... My job was making something, and my job was the making of me... What heartless being would create a job that steals meaning from people in the process of taking their lives from them by the minute??? For what??? For what do people submit to the ignomy of employment for wages so short they do not cover the cost of their doing??? If you have to clothe yourself, keep a car, gas it up and insure it, keep yourself housed and fed so you can work to continually be short on those things you need to keep working...
People go mental...They are like a dog with too many fleas, or not enough to distract him from being a dog.... I met the wife of a man who once too often flattened his head with a press...It was probably preferable to spending more time with his wife... So; she was a little fat, kind of demanding; but I think it was the job... When it became too much, he took the safety gate off, inserted his head, and levered the switch with a two by four... Problem solved... But it beat starving on workman's comp, a struggling with bureaucracies... It would please our whole class of employers if we would all simply neutralize ourselves...
One of my friends died in his driveway... He was a smoker, and was not feeling well, and another buddy of mine was taking care of him, steering him into jobs he could handle... Steve had to leave him with some other friends, and he asked them to take care of John, and they finished him off instead..He wasn't welding decking fast enough, and on Friday they made John drag that heavy assed floor deck in the heat... I was in the super's trailer on Monday when the word went around, and I heard the owner on the phone talking to some one, and after he said that he died at home, he said: and Thank God!!!
Wouldn't they all thank God; and perhaps even begin to believe if everyone maimed on the job would just drop dead for them???...
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Dec 5, 2012 5:43 AM
Sweeney. I believe Mr. Barone's piece pointed out several factors that would lend support to the assumption of wide spread fraud in the system. The one that stands out to me is the huge increase of claims. Answer me this Sweeney; do you think people are healthier, and more able today than they were in the 60s? What do you attribute the astronimical increases in DI on? My guess is all those abulance chaser commercials I see promising to get the disability payments you deserve.
Comment: #4
Posted by: david
Thu Dec 6, 2012 10:17 AM
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