Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Robert VerBruggen on Burkhauser & Daly’s The Declining Work and Welfare of People with Disabilities

Over at National Review Online, editor Robert VerBruggen has a nice article based on Rich Burkhauser and Mary Daly's new book, "The Declining Work and Welfare of People with Disabilities." It's a good review for the general reader of what's happening in the Social Security Disability Insurance program and what some prominent experts are proposing to fix it.

The problem, Burkhauser and Daly report, is that people with disabilities have chosen government payments over work, not because of short-term economic trends, but because public policy encourages them to. And while recent reports have tended to focus on the last ten years, the problem has been growing for much, much longer.

In 1981, a government survey found that 7.3 percent of American had disabilities that affected their ability to work; of these, 35 percent held jobs anyway, and 32.6 percent collected payments from the government. In 2010, a similar proportion reported work-relevant disabilities — 7.8 percent — but 51.4 percent said they received government payments, and only 22.6 percent said they worked.

Changes in government policy between the two surveys explain the difference. By 1983, various policy changes had eliminated the program's regular reevaluations of its beneficiaries, making it much harder to remove people from the rolls. In 1986, the standards for mental illness loosened. And throughout SSDI's history, Social Security's bureaucrats have become progressively more lenient when they make judgment calls about conditions that don't necessarily prevent people from working: In 1967, about 20 percent of those on disability had mental illnesses or musculoskeletal problems; by 2009, more than half did.

Burkhauser and Daly will present their book at an AEI event on September 22nd. I'll be moderating and I hope all interested folks will show up.

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