Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability

Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability in America | Planet Money – By Chana Joffe-Walt – March 2013

This may seem like a strange article to post for someone who’s on disability themselves. However, I know there are many, many people out there scamming our disability system, sometimes for eye-popping amounts.

  • Scammers are the ones that give the impression that helping supposedly disabled people is a pointless waste of money.
  • Scammers are the ones that will cause the system to go bankrupt.
  • Scammer are the ones who cause our own painful conditions to be doubted and denied (for both disability and opioid treatment).

Yet we are the ones who have to shoulder the blame because we’re accused of being such scammers, both in disability claims and in getting opioids for our chronic pain. 

This article is composed of several parts and I’ve only focused on the ones I find particularly relevant. It shows how the questionable use of disability claims by scammers can be aided by bureaucratic rules.

I was shocked to see that a whole new “disability industry” has grown up around getting the money from such claims. This kind of mass scamming is leading to the doubts and overly rigorous questioning that makes it so difficult for honest patients to get benefits (although the “benefit” of lifelong poverty could be disputed).

It’s an excellent, wide-ranging article, well worth reading in its entirety at https://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/.

In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed.

The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled.

Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.

The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined.

Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. The vast majority of people on federal disability do not work.

Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.

the story of these programs — who goes on them, and why, and what happens after that — is, to a large extent, the story of the U.S. economy. It’s the story not only of an aging workforce, but also of a hidden, increasingly expensive safety net.

For the past six months, I’ve been reporting on the growth of federal disability programs.

I’ve been trying to understand what disability means for American workers, and, more broadly, what it means for poor people in America nearly 20 years after we ended welfare as we knew it. Here’s what I found.

In Hale County, Alabama, nearly 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability. On the day government checks come in every month, banks stay open late, Main Street fills up with cars, and anybody looking to unload an old TV or armchair has a yard sale.

People don’t seem to be faking this pain, but it gets confusing. I have back pain. My editor has a herniated disc, and he works harder than anyone I know. There must be millions of people with asthma and diabetes who go to work every day.

Who gets to decide whether, say, back pain makes someone disabled?

The health problems where there is most latitude for judgment — back pain, mental illness — are among the fastest growing causes of disability.

People on disability are not counted among the unemployed.

“That’s a kind of ugly secret of the American labor market,” David Autor, an economist at MIT, told me. “Part of the reason our unemployment rates have been low, until recently, is that a lot of people who would have trouble finding jobs are on a different program.”

in most cases, going on disability means

  • you will not work,
  • you will not get a raise,
  • you will not get whatever meaning people get from work.

Going on disability means, assuming you rely only on those disability payments, you will be poor for the rest of your life.

That’s the deal. And it’s a deal 14 million Americans have signed up for.

What should we, as a country, do for people who aren’t making it?

Americans want to be generous. But Americans don’t want to be chumps.

A person on welfare costs a state money. That same resident on disability doesn’t cost the state a cent, because the federal government covers the entire bill for people on disability. So states can save money by shifting people from welfare to disability.

And the Public Consulting Group is glad to help.

PCG is a private company that states pay to comb their welfare rolls and move as many people as possible onto disability.

This is truly an outrage. It may not be illegal, but it’s certainly immoral.

The PCG agents help the potentially disabled fill out the Social Security disability application over the phone.

And by help, I mean the agents actually do the filling out.

The company gets paid by the state every time it moves someone off of welfare and onto disability. In recent contract negotiations with Missouri, PCG asked for $2,300 per person.

In the past few decades, an entire disability-industrial complex has emerged.

It has just one goal: Push more people onto disability.

And, sometimes, it seems like the government is outmatched. This is especially true in the legal system.

Somewhere around 30 years ago, the economy started changing in some fundamental ways.

There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country.

This is the fundamental problem, not the specific individuals getting benefits. Our society has no jobs for so many that a reckoning will be needed, probably sooner rather than later.

American leaders have not sat down and come up with a comprehensive plan.

“American leaders” are idiots when it comes to complex multi-faceted society-impacting issues.

They can only deal with simple solutions no matter how complicated the problem is, indicating a surprising lack of intelligence (or a narrow focus on the corporate profits that make them wealthy).

Again, this is an excellent article well worth reading in its entirety at https://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/.

6 thoughts on “Unfit for Work: The startling rise of disability

  1. Charles Bruscino

    The author, Jofee-Walt, was roundly criticized by a spectrum people and professionals as gaslighting, profiling, bigotry and outright hatred. Please check the many negative comments she received via a Google Search. Her methods were unscientific, she jumped to conclusion and has done more to harm disabled people than most.

    Let me make this clear: IF there is a lot of “disability fraud” show me the freakin’ convictions!! Otherwise there is no proof of any fraud whatsoever.

    It’s similar to a person “Oh I know this guy and everybody knows he’s not disabled!”

    Yeah? Horse manure! You a disability expert? Disability attorney? Disability evaluator? Such a statement is the kind of reasoning that is as unscientific as anything, and should be categorized under “Hatred”.

    Joffee-Walt’s article is GARBAGE. It doesn’t deserve mention except as an example of he hatred of disabled people in this country.

    Please check the various responses to this hateful article. You can find Jofee-Walt’s email address online, and ask her how ell her article was received.

    I can’t stress enough how harmful this article has been to the disability community. NPR should be ashamed of itself.


      1. Charles Bruscino

        There’s fraud in every segment of society, not just disability, so the assumption that because there is some fraud in disability too, this particular type of fraud must be “startling” does not pass muster. Antone can Google to responses to Joffe-Walt’s horrendously bigoted article. The article is what, 7 years old?

        Iterating, there is fraud and or some other type of crime in every segment of society, not just disability. Is all these various types of crimes “startling”?

        We’ve had presidents accused of crimes. Does this mean all presidents commit crimes? Some police commit crimes, as do some corporate officers.

        The propaganda that disability fraud is rampant is a ploy by conservative political forces and the insurance industry to manipulate the public into thinking disability fraud is off the charts so they can more easily manipulate legislation to decrease disability claims to either lower their taxes or in the case of the insurance industry, to increase their profits.

        Ninety-nine percent of individuals seeking disability claims don’t have the notion or gumption to commit disability fraud as we are too bust trying to have some degree of normalcy and support families in times of duress after we’ve become disabled by obtaining disability as is our right to do so. One percent of people throughout strata in society are generally dishonest; this doesn’t mean everyone is. The argument that one bad apple spoils the bunch is specious, although it does make it harder for honest disabled people to seek our rights under various laws. The argument that “Oh my God disability fraud is rampant” can be categorized under gaslighting and profiling and worse- a hatred of people with disabilities that in itself is illegal and inhumane. It’s just more abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with disabilities which is generally illegal in all 50 states.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Zyp Czyk Post author

          You are right, any public benefit will be abused by someone sometime somewhere, but it doesn’t negate the basic value (and moral duty) of providing the benefit. Plus the wealthy folks cheat like crazy anywhere they can (especially on tax benefits most of us don’t even know about), but that’s usually in legal “gray zones” so they don’t get busted. Meanwhile, some guy tries to use a fake $20 bill to “cheat” just a tiny bit and…..


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      Can you give me a source for that? I’d honestly like to know because the few outrageous cheaters get all the attention so that we who need it are stigmatized and have a heck of a hard time getting it.



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