Thursday, April 13, 2017

Rural Michigan's 'Disability Belt' is beginning to rival poverty in Appalachia, Deep South

One of the nation's fastest growing impoverished regions, quickly becoming on par with poverty rates in Appalachia and the Deep South, is rural Northern Michigan, Chad Selweski reports for Bridge Magazine, part of The Center for Michigan. Seventeen northern Michigan counties, mostly in the Lower Peninsula, are part of the "Disability Belt," one name for "a region where post-recession aging workers in poor health and with few prospects for work have turned to federal disability benefits as a last resort, a replacement income for their long-lost unemployment checks."

According to federal data, 385,000 working-age Michigan residents receive some sort of disability benefits, totaling $425 million per month, Selweski writes. Gary Kozma, a Michigan attorney who specializes in disability cases, said many older, rural unskilled people with debilitating health problems that can’t find work view disability almost as early retirement.

That's true in Northern Michigan, where "a surprising number of desperate workers have turned to Social Security disability benefits to earn a livelihood," Selweski writes. "Many don’t expect to return to the job market, unless federal investigators throw them off disability rolls. In some counties, rates of poverty and disability hover around 15 to 20 percent, raising questions about whether a some portion of working-age residents apply for disability as much from despair that they will ever land another job as from physical necessity." (Bridge graphic: Disability in Michigan)
"Northern Michigan is part of a national phenomenon that emerged two decades ago and especially during the Great Recession of 2008-10, when an abrupt decline in blue-collar jobs left certain workers—mostly in their 50s, suffering from chronic medical conditions—unemployed or underemployed for years at a time," Selweski writes. "They dealt with persistent pain, often job-induced, and eventually found themselves unable to lift heavy items, stand for hours at a time, or even efficiently climb stairs."

"With jobs in manufacturing, construction and similar manual labor beyond their reach, these economic outcasts also held little chance of landing employment in the region’s fragile retail sector or service industries," he writes. "Armed with a high school diploma or less, they were unlikely to find office work. So, they turned to the Social Security system’s disability insurance."

No comments: