Monday, September 23, 2013

More workers on disability, especially in rural areas

The growing number of people going from full-time work to disability pay continues to grow, especially in rural areas, where the closing of factories and mills has left many unemployed and with no other option but to take government benefits, partly because they lack the education needed for jobs that don't involve physical labor. Michael Fletcher reports for The Washington Post that the number of former workers in the U.S. receiving benefits has soared "from just over 5 million to 8.8 million between 2000 and 2012. An additional 2.1 million dependent children and spouses also receive benefits. Federal officials project that the program will exhaust its trust fund by 2016 — 20 years before the trust fund that supports Social Security’s old-age benefits is projected to run dry." (Post graphic from federal data)

Maine, which has the largest percentage of rural population of any state, has been hit hard by the loss of jobs, especially in Penobscot County, an area with 153,000 residents, where well-paying jobs once provided an economic foothold for generations of blue-collar workers. It has "become a place where an unusually large share of the unemployed are seeking economic shelter on federal disability rolls," Fletcher writes. The number of people receiving Social Security disability in the county rose from 2000-2012 "from 4,475 to 7,955 — or nearly one in 12 of the county’s adults between the ages of 18 and 64, according to Social Security statistics."

"In 2004, nearly one in five male high school dropouts between ages 55 and 64 were in the disability program, according to a paper by economists David Autor and Mark Duggan," Fletcher writes "That rate was more than double that of high school graduates of the same age in the program and more than five times higher than the 3.7 percent of college graduates of that age who collect disability." John Dorrer, an economist and former acting commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, told Fletcher, “The Social Security disability program has become an economic option for many people. As a result of the economic downturn, a whole lot of unskilled males 50 and over were bounced out of the labor force.” (Read more)

In Dec., 2011 it was reported that disability benefit rates were 80 percent higher in rural areas, especially in Appalachia, the deep South and the Ozarks. The national average of adults receiving benefits was 4.6 percent, but in rural areas, that rate was 7.6 percent. There has also been reports of disability judges being too generous with funds, specifically one judge who served in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia that approved payments in all 729 of his decisions in the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year.

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