Last week, wingnut congressman Allen West was slammed for saying this:
"Since June of 2009 or so, we have seen 2.4 million private sector jobs created, but we've had 3.1 million people going on Social Security disability and, as we said just this past month, the 85,000 went on Social Security disability as opposed to 80,000 jobs created," the Florida Republican said Sunday on Fox News. "So once again we are creating the sense of economic dependence which, to me is a form of modern, 21st-century slavery."So government assistance for the disabled is the equivalent of forced servitude. Right -- got it.
This appalled most sane people -- but today we have that nice Frank Bruni, in a New York Times op-ed, telling us (if I'm interpreting his words correctly) that 100% of the increase in the Social Security disability rolls is due to fraud committed by selfish people, and to improperly loosened standards:
Selfishness run amok is a national disease.... Too many people behave as if they live in a civic vacuum, no broader implications to their individual behavior.You know what, Frank? I haven't known anyone who's done this. I guess you and I run with different crowds.
They game, connive, cheat. Sometimes it's small stuff: the perfectly healthy man who presents a sham doctor's note so that his 60-pound pooch can be designated a "service dog" and thus accompany him into a lounge where pets aren't allowed.
Sometimes it's more consequential: perfectly (or at least mostly) healthy people bilking the government. Over the last four decades, the number of Americans drawing Social Security disability insurance has more or less tripled, by some estimates. That well outpaces population growth and reflects not just a liberalization of the requirements to apply for such insurance but the readiness of some people who don't truly need it to finesse the criteria nonetheless.
I've known a few of them. I bet you have, too. Making a mockery of all the Americans who rightly depend on such aid, they exaggerate impairments, pressuring doctors to validate their conditions, on the theory that no harm is really done, not when they're suckling at a teat as elastic and amorphous as the federal Treasury.
Really? Those are the only two explanations for the uptick -- "a liberalization of the requirements to apply for such insurance" and flat-out cheating?
It was being reported as far back as 2009 that the disability rolls were increasing for the obvious reason that there are more aging baby boomers -- a simple demographic fact that would undercut the premise of Bruni's column, which is that America is experiencing an epidemic of selfishness (and why is this the obsession of Times op-ed writers these days?).
The report to which Bruni is alluding (PDF) doesn't exactly make this sound like a simple scam:
... from 2000 to 2009, on average, 28 percent of initial disability claims were approved and an additional 16 percent were approved on appeal. But more than half of all claims (53 percent) were ultimately denied.Though there does seem to be a connection between applying for disability and a high unemployment rate:
An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development study of U.S. data spanning 22 years found that a 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate increased the disability claims application rate more than 10 percent and the new awards rate 7 percent overall.So maybe hard times motivate people to apply for disability who really could work. But if you think about it, this suggests that these people actually were working. If they're scamming the government, they're doing so not out of an innate, immutable desire to get something for nothing, but because they can't find work anymore. To me, that's not morally equivalent top having your dog fraudulently designated a service dog -- that's morally the equivalent of stealing a loaf of bread when you're starving: yes, it's a crime, but it's a crime born of desperation. It's not selfishness.
I don't doubt that some people are gaming the system -- but I do doubt that a new epidemic of narcissism is causing this. It's hard out there. It's especially hard if you're over 50 and lost your job along the way. Bruni will never know economic struggle again, so this will never be a problem for him -- alas.