"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, July 2, 2012

America Coming Apart, One Fraudulent Disability Claim at a Time

I've been reading Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart.   On one level, it's a sociological study of the changes in key indicators among white Americans between the years 1960 and 2010, and the resulting divergences in wealth, stability, success and happiness between poor Americans (which he captures with the name of a fictional town of "Fishtown") and upper-middle-class professional Americans (which he calls "Belmont").   On another level, however, Murray is really describing the decline of American morality, and its consequent effects on the survivability of the American experiment.   In that way, it's an update and report back to De Tocqueville 175 years later.   The prognosis is, to put it mildly, not good.   Sorry, Alexis.

One of the virtues Murray examines that has increasingly been lost in America, is the virtue of industriousness.   What would Murray, or for that matter de Tocqueville, make of the following story?

A record of 8,733,461 workers took federal disability insurance payments in June 2012, according to the Social Security Administration. That was up from 8,707,185 in May.

It also exceeds the entire population of New York City, which according to the Census Bureau's latest estimate hit 8,244,910 in July 2011.

There has been a dramatic shrinkage in the United States over the past 20 years in the number of workers actually employed and earning paychecks per worker who is not employed and is taking federal disability insurance payments.

In June 1992, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 118,419,000 people employed in the United States, and, according to the Social Security Administration, there were 3,334,333 workers taking federal disability payments. That equaled about 1 person taking disability payments for each 35.5 people actually working.

When President Barack Obama was inaugurated in January 2009, there were 142,187,000 people employed and 7,442,377 workers taking federal disability payments. That equaled about 1 person taking disability payments for each 19.1 people actually working.

In May of this year, there were 142,287,000 people employed, and 8,707,185 workers taking federal disability payments. That equaled 1 worker taking disability payments for each 16.3 people working.
The federal disability payments made to the record 8,733,461 workers in June averaged $1,111.42.

Two points, one requiring a bit of logic, the second requiring arithmetic.

First, over the past twenty years medical science has vastly improved.   For instance, the ability of medical science to ameliorate the effects of disabilities, either physical (through surgery or advanced prosthetics), or psychological (through anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications), has vastly increased.   There shoudl be a lower percentage of long-term disabled, not a higher percentage!   So what are we to make of the numbers cited above.   Logic yields onlly one conclusion:   roughly 4 million Americans and perhaps more are perpetrating disability fraud on their fellow Americans.   We are paying deadbeats who could work, but prefer instead to concoct "medical" reasons why they can't.  

Second, look at that average payment.    $1,111 per month.   Times 8.7 million recipients.   That's about $9 billion per month in federal disability payments, or roughly $110 billion a year.   If half of those individuals are fraudfeasors, deadbeats, scam-artists -- and I'd be willing to bet that's the case -- that means that we are simply transferring more than $50 billion a year from productive, honest, taxpaying Americans to lazy scoundrels.  

As Murray details, in 1960s it was considered a scandal if a grown-up man did not work.  Not anymore.

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