In his recent op ed, “We need to rethink disability policy,” Charles Lane parrots Conservative attacks on Social Security Disability (“SSD”).
Among other things, Mr. Lane wrote that SSD applications have increased because “laid off workers turn to disability when unemployment benefits run out.” Commissioner Michael Astrue, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, made the same offensive statement last year in the Newsday article "Soc. Sec. disability in peril" [News, Aug. 22]. The article discussed how the SSD program is in financial trouble as aging baby boomers and laid-off workers file large numbers of claims.
Mr. Lane concedes that some of the increase in SSD applications is due to the aging of the population. One should expect disability claims to increase as more people near retirement age, since older workers are more likely to have medical problems that render them unable to work. However, Mr. Lane ignores the obvious; that SSD applications have increased in large part because the population has increased. Furthermore, he overlooks that many laid-off workers were allowed to work with special accommodations, especially those who had developed good will with their employers over many years.
The crux of Mr. Lane’s editorial is that our SSD policy must change because it provides too much incentive for people not to work. He states that the average monthly SSD benefit is $1,100, or $13,200 a year. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, the poverty level for a family of three is $19,090. According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which translates into an annual salary of $15,080 for someone who works a 40 hour week. According to U.S. Today, the average median income last year was about $50,000. It hardly seems that SSD policy is creating an incentive for people to feign that they are incapable of working.