Friday, March 31, 2017

Disability rates highest in rural, white, working-class counties; see your county's since 2004

Washington Post maps; click on them to enlarge
Rural America has "experienced the most rapid increase in disability rates over the past decade," with 100 of the 102 counties with the highest rates—where more than one in six working-age adults receive disability—being rural, Terrence McCoy reports for The Washington Post. Of those counties, all but 18 were, on average, 87 percent white.

McCoy's report includes an interactive chart that allows users to track each county's disability rate since 2014.

From 1996 to 2015, the number of working-age adults receiving disability rose from 7.7 million to 13 million and "the federal government this year will spend an estimated $192 billion on disability payments, more than the combined total for food stamps, welfare, housing subsidies and unemployment assistance," McCoy writes.

"The rise in disability has emerged as yet another indicator of a widening political, cultural and economic chasm between urban and rural America," McCoy writes. "In the 2016 presidential election, the majority-white counties voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, whose rhetoric of a rotting nation with vast joblessness often reflects lived experiences in these communities."

"Most people aren’t employed when they apply for disability—one reason applicant rates skyrocketed during the recession," McCoy writes. "Full-time employment would, in fact, disqualify most applicants. And once on it, few ever get off, their ranks uncounted in the national unemployment rate, which doesn’t include people on disability. The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether. For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish."

McCoy gives a detailed example in the case of Desmond Spencer, a former roofer in Beaverton, Ala., who lost two jobs when companies left the country, before losing another during the recession, McCoy writes. At 39, Spencer, who limps from a work accident that he never sought treatment for, hasn't had a job in a year. Family members urge him to apply for disability benefits, but he doesn't want to be seen as a failure and he wonders if he is actually able to work and thus doesn't need assistance. He told McCoy, “There’s a stigma about it. Disabled. Disability. Drawing a check. But if you’re putting food on the table, does it matter?”

Spencer's situation may not be typical of all people who get disability benefits or are considering seeking them, but the Post is casting a wider net; at the bottom the story it has a questionnaire asking people to tell about their own applications.

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