Attacking the disabled

The assault on the poor has been extended even to the disabled and now even they are being portrayed as part of the ‘moocher’ class. Last year, there were a spate of news reports about the rise in the disability rolls following the recession. Of course, this set off a storm of speculation the ruling class, ever vigilant when it comes to rooting out any poor or working class families getting what they see undeserved relief, as to whether people were abusing the system to claim disabilities so that they could get some benefits while not working.

One factor fueling the rise was not fakery but that workers who had disabilities but still had jobs found that when they lost their jobs the disability prevented them from finding new ones in a tough job market.

The growth of the disability rolls has accelerated since the recession hit in 2007. As the labor market tightened, workers with disabilities that employers previously accommodated on the job — painful hips, mental disorders, weak hearts — were often the first to go. Finding new work often proved difficult, causing many to turn to the disability rolls for support.

Kathy Ruffing of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities examined the data and concluded:

The Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program provides modest but vital benefits to workers who become unable to perform substantial work on account of a serious medical impairment. Although some critics charge that spending for the program is “out of control,” the bulk of the rise in federal disability rolls stems from demographic factors: the aging of the U.S. population, the growth in women’s employment, and Social Security’s rising retirement age. Other factors — including the economic downturn — also have contributed to the program’s growth, but its costs and caseloads are generally in step with past projections.

Economist Jared Bernstein also debunks the idea that the rise is evidence of fraud.

So while these data show some growth in the DI rolls that may reflect folks getting DI who ought not to, much of the increase appears to be explainable by known, legitimate factors. Neither is there much cyclicality to the rolls, suggest that “takers/fakers” are exploiting the program.

In fact, as I emphasized in the segment, more than 90% of entitlement dollars go to people who are either elderly, disabled, or working. In other words, the makers/takers frame is factually wrong not to mention mean-spirited and divisive.

Paul Krugman wrote at that time about how the demonization of the poor is being widened to now even include the disabled and what this might mean for the Republicans who are the ones pushing the ‘rise of the moocher class’ theme.

If you want to understand the trouble Republicans are in, one good place to start is with the obsession the right has lately developed with the rising disability rolls. The growing number of Americans receiving disability payments has, for many on the right, become a symbol of our economic and moral decay; we’re becoming a nation of malingerers.

The point, I think, is that right-wing intellectuals and politicians live in a bubble in which denunciations of those bums on disability and those greedy children getting free health care are greeted with shouts of approval — but now have to deal with a country where the same remarks come across as greedy and heartless (because they are).

One of the enduring features of elite discourse is that when it comes to sharing the wealth such as increasing taxes on the wealthy, howls of protest arise about ‘takers’ living off the work of the ‘makers’ but when it comes to austerity measures, they suddenly discover the virtues of the collective and talk about the need for ‘shared sacrifice’. This has become a code for cuts in social welfare programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and disability insurance in order to bring down the deficit

When it comes to cutting benefits, the Villagers enthusiastically embrace the that there is something noble about suffering together for the common good. And of course there is, provided that everyone feels the pain roughly equally. But what they leave out is that the threshold for financial pain is much lower for the poor than for the rich. Cutting earned benefits by even a little will hurt many poor and lower income people a lot while raising taxes on the very rich even by a lot is something that they will hardly feel.

The eagerness with which politicians and the media elite keep demanding a ‘Grand Bargain’ in which ‘everyone shares in the sacrifice’ to solve the alleged debt problem is disgusting. The only good thing about election years (which is every even year in the US) is that Democrats are forced to shelve calls for this deservedly unpopular idea, but they are then promptly resurrected in the odd-numbered years.


  1. raven says

    If you want to understand the trouble Republicans are in, …

    Krugman’s good but I don’t see this. What trouble!!!

    1. The GOP controls the US house.

    2. They control the majority of US states, governors and legislative bodies.

    3. They are projected to do well in the coming midterm election. They may control the US senate as well.

    4. They have a majority on the Supreme court. I know it is supposed to be nonpartisan but it isn’t. Scalia is just a GOP political hack.

  2. raven says

    To keep going, Romney was an unappealing candidate, with all the warmth and humanity of a Reptilian shapeshifter.

    One of his outrageous comments was that 47% of the US population were moochers.

    It’s not even close to being true. Social Security and Medicare are paid in, solvent programs. Sure people get money from the government. Money that they paid into the funds. And these are solvent for the next few decades, forever in political terms.

    He still got almost half the vote!!! It was 47% to Obama’s 53%, a margin of 5 million votes.

  3. AnotherAnonymouse says

    Anecdata time: a good friend of mine lost a middle-class IT job in 2009, and made do working 2 lesser-paying, no-benefit jobs for about five years, until an underlying health issue, too-long-ignored, flared up and nearly killed him. He was just approved for disability (after wading through the process for a year). So, how many Americans are in this state? Had the economy not collapsed, had they kept good-paying SINGLE jobs with benefits, minor troubles would never had grown to insurmountable ones.

  4. ollie says

    There might be something else going on. I have a “sort of” bad back and wonky shoulders and knees, but these conditions are manageable because:

    1. My work is NOT physically demanding
    2. I had proper health care for these ailments including access to physical therapy
    3. my lifestyle allows me to exercise regularly to keep these from becoming debilitating.

    These points don’t apply to everyone. “3” is one reason I am a fan of our city’s program to provide “scholarships” to our public gym for poorer people (which is one of the gyms that I use).

  5. smrnda says

    I’m disabled, and have been on disability. I’m only able to work because I’m a highly-skilled worker who can make as many demands as I want and will be granted lots of accommodations.

    All said, this proves to me that the GOP takes a ‘let ’em die’ view of the disabled. We are only ever mentioned as props in their anti-abortion arguments when they point out how EVERY fetus is precious to them, including ones with conditions that will result in a guaranteed early death. Once born, the disabled are all a bunch of worthless ‘moochers’ despite the fact that, when we get disability, we are often only getting benefits we’d paid for.

    And any jackass suggesting ‘private charity’ – the disabled used to get pretty much dumped in warehouses, or exploited for cheap labor, or had all their rights and dignity taken away so someone could feel charitable, sono thanks.

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