The Simple Boring Reason Why Disability Insurance Exploded
Ahem... just spot on stuff here...
Sounds like a challenge.
I don't blame him. The idea that psychiatry and government are working together through the welfare system to patch holes in feudal America is hard to swallow, and when no less than The Washington Post explains it so concretely in a few PowerPoint ready graphs... it's seductive, I sympathize.
The Post article clearly explains that the explosion in the number of people receiving disability benefits is not really the fault of the economy; and, they will grudgingly admit, not the fault of "doctors [and applicants] conspiring to game the system somehow--" the default narrative of anti-corporate, pro-common sense This American Life, whose typical maneuver for depicting a complicated social process is to find an N of 1 living somewhere in Appalachia and imply that this nice but toothless baptist woman doesn't know what's good for her. "This week on This American Life, snark by Reductio Ad Absurdum, in four acts."
No, says the Post, the answer is more boring: people are getting older, and older people get more disabled.
Pure common sense, no need for an appeal to "some other omnipotent entity." Freakonomics would be proud . But I can do this drunk, ready, go.
You have to start from first principles: what does the author want to be true? The Washington Post has a two part mission statement: 1. get you a higher SAT score or your money back; 2. make sure nothing is Obama's fault. I'm not saying anything is Obama's fault, I'm saying that in 2008 they switched from "It's Bush's Fault" offense to "It's Not Obama's Fault" defense in hopes of keeping their last ten readers. Note that the Post's site is called "WonkBlog,' please also consider that anything branded with the word "wonk" is misdirection.
The Post is making a bet that you won't know the difference between SSDI and SSI, and you wouldn't, no one does, it's deliberately obfuscated and frequently conflated. They are totally different in terms of origin, budget and consequence, but both rely on "disability." The only person who does know the difference is a guy actually on SSDI, so that when you ask him, "how long have you been on SSI?" he will freeze, pull out a knife, place it calmly on the table, and say, "listen lung transplant, I'm not on SSI, I'm on SSDI. I worked."
SSDI is "Social Security Disability Insurance." It is what it says it is: you worked in the past, paid payroll taxes, "paid into the system," and if you become disabled-- not necessarily on the job, which is the requirement for collecting disability from the job, but for any reason-- you can collect SSDI payments.
The Post is explaining the trend in SSDI as the result of the aging population-- not gaming the system, not the economy.
The obvious retort to all this is, fine, so what? SSDI is meaningless, well, meaningful to you if you need it, but to the economy and to the progress of humanity it's a wash. You're telling me a guy pulled a 9 to 5 for a decade... and now "claims" he "can't"? It's not my ideal life plan, but if he decided at 45 to quit being a welder so he could downgrade by two thirds to the $15k a year baller lifestyle, well, I prefer my grog made of Zaya rum but I'm not going to begrduge this guy the well liquor if that's the ship he wants to sail.
What will sink the Earth into oblivion isn't people who can no longer work, it is people who have never worked and will never have worked, who on the one hand will never pay into the system, on the other hand will never produce any output, and, thank you Zaphod, on the other hand will draw from it in a number of ways that perpetuate this draw. This is SSI, which stands not for "social security income" which would helpfully explain where it comes from, but "Supplemental Security Income," which makes no sense, two of those words are lies.
Some numbers are often useful to scare off the uninterested, so boo:
Number of SSI recipients: 8M
Average payment: $550/mo
Total annual cost: $58B
Number of SSDI recipients (ex-workers): 8M
Average payment: $1100/mo
Total annual cost: $120B. If you include family benefits, the total SSDI cost is $143B.
"Hey, dummy, I thought you said the problem was SSI. 58 is more tinyer than 143." Yes. My training in physics allows me to observe this as well, but the problem isn't the money, the problem is the calendar.
Since we like to defer our debts,here's the future of America question: who is more likely to eventually go to work: the children of SSDI recipients, or the children of SSI recipients? The answer depends on whether there are class lines or multigenerational entrenchments of poverty in America, and there are, which means that while the kids of SSDI stand a chance, the kids of SSI are sunk. Fortunately, a lot of them are black, so there's that.
The welder who "gamed the system" at 45 at least caused his kid to observe him as a worker for the formative first 8 years of the kid's life. It counts for something, it is not nothing. Possibilities exist. That guy may be a jerk, but he is not the problem.
SSI is 100% a gimmick, but the gimmick is 100% hidden from you. The gimmick isn't that poor people game the disability system to get cash payments, the gimmick is that the only way to deliver cash payments to poor people is through the pretense of disability, hence mental illness and pain disorders. Whether they are "disabled" or not is totally and completely irrelevant, poor people are going to get the money one way or another so that they don't riot, but in order to prevent everyone else from rioting, deniability is created: "look, doctors-- SCIENCE-- said they are medically disabled, it's out of our hands!" So your anger is safely diverted: "they're gaming the system!" No. That is the system. If they were gaming it, someone would get caught. No one gets caught.
"We need to create jobs." There aren't any to create. Robots and chinamen, that's the future of unskilled labor. Sorry, I meant chinawomen. College won't help either, you went to Barnard and you can't find a job, what hope is there for the majority on SSI? Zero, not the way we're doing it. TV tells them how to want, no one else is around to tell them otherwise. Here's the advice you need to give your kid: either you find a knowledge based productive skill, from plumber to quantum programmer, or you will be living off the state, regardless of what company you think you're working for.
I know, the idea of people getting paid for nothing gives me the heebie jeebies as well, I'd want to shrug, too. But the point here is not whether poor people deserve living wages, the point, again, is that since this is precisely what they are getting, already and irrevocably, can we do it more efficiently, cheaply? Why do we have to go through all this bureaucracy that massively inflates the costs-- for example, Medicaid (the poor have to first become "patients" and get meds to get disabled, after all)? Why not more efficiently deliver the "assistance"? Cut out the middlemen-- send them directly to an ATM? I see how that might lead to an "entitlement culture", but isn't "disability culture" actually worse AND more expensive?
But no one would stand for it. You, we, I, everyone, will gladly pay more in taxes or plunge deeper into galactic sized debt to not see the reality that some will get money just because, so that we can lie to ourselves that the "disability system" isn't supposed to be used this way, they are gaming it. The problem is not economics, the problem is psychology. You're paying extra for the deniability. Is it worth it?