Human Events Blog

Portrait of a disabled economy

The Senate Budget Committee sums up America’s transformation into a disabled, part-time economy with two astonishing charts.

The first shows the growth of food stamps and disability recipients versus Americans finding jobs, for the period from April to June 2012.  About 200,000 net jobs were created, while 246,000 went on disability, and 265,000 people signed up for food stamps.

The second chart compares the decline of the American workforce under Barack Obama with the growth of Food Stamp Nation, measuring the smaller workforce against the enormous increase in the disability and SNAP programs:

(Hat tip to the Weekly Standard for posting these charts.)  To put it mildly, it seems unlikely that the past few years have produced such a huge increase in the number of genuinely starving or disabled people.   Bloomberg News took a look at the disability phenomenon in May, and found that recessionary periods actually make it easier for people to qualify as disabled, because the stipulation that “claimants be unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity” become easier to meet when “jobs are scarce and wages get cut.”  In other words, it’s much easier to demonstrate that a particular ability keeps you from working when there are fewer jobs to be had.

Also, more people with significant disabilities find themselves unable to find work, despite their best efforts, when the workforce contracts.  Everyone perceived as a marginal worker or somewhat risky hire is likely to join the swelling ranks of the “unemployables.”  Even long periods of unemployment become a significant, self-reinforcing disadvantage when employers are cherry-picking resumes from a vast pool of applicants.  We don’t end up with a large portion of the population bouncing in and out of jobs; we get a small, and diminishing, pool of people who keep finding work, surrounded by a growing number of those who can’t get a job.  People with disabilities are in great peril of slipping into the “unemployable” category.

And once they’re on disability, they tend to stay there.  Bloomberg quotes Morgan Stanley research showing “more than 99 percent of all SSDI beneficiaries remain in the program until retirement age.”  A White House report actually cited the rarity of those on disability returning to the workforce as a reason to keep extending unemployment benefits – because once those run out, disability benefits become a final resort.

Growing dependency is one of the bitter differences between vibrant, growing free-market economies, and government-managed decline.  Of course, some will look at the charts above and see a political resource waiting to be harvested, rather than horrifying decline.

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