In Slate, James Ledbetter reports that “Social Security’s disability insurance is expensive, destructive, and out of control.”
“Throughout the year, economists and both houses of Congress have debated whether to extend unemployment insurance for another 13 weeks, or 26 weeks, worried that the payments would bloat the deficit or, worse, actually cause people to stay jobless. All along, however, millions of Americans without work have quietly continued to cash a federal check every month. They don’t show up in the unemployment statistics—not even as ‘discouraged’ workers—and their benefits won’t stop after 99 weeks.
“They are the recipients of Social Security’s Disability Insurance, a somewhat obscure federal program that nonetheless eats up nearly $200 billion a year. SSDI began in 1956 and was intended to provide benefits for people between 50 and 64 who’d been in the workforce but had developed ‘any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or to be of long-continued and indefinite duration.’ At the end of the first year, there were 150,000 Americans receiving SSDI benefits. As Congress serially widened the eligibility criteria—by age, by type and duration of impairment—that number began to grow. Enrollment hit 1 million adults in 1966; by the end of 1977 it was 2.8 million; and today it’s more than 8 million ex-workers, plus another million disabled adult offspring and disabled widows and widowers.”