(Dis)Ability

By John Lumbard.

Guy walks into a bar, orders a beer, and stands there drinking it while he watches a Bruins game.  Orders another beer, and stands there drinking it . . . While he’s drinking the third one, he’s asked what he does for a living . . . .

“I’ve been on disability for the last couple of years.”

That’s no joke;  we were there.  We were also there to hear a Boston bricklayer (met on a ski lift) who told us that he collects unemployment benefits all winter every winter—along with ski-house roommates, also bricklayers;   the self-styled “Government Ski Team”.

This is big trouble for our economy, and an important change in society.  Collecting undeserved benefits is now something that you proudly announce to strangers.  When JFK was President the male labor participation rate was 82%, because a worker who hurt his back in a physically-demanding job would soon transition to a desk job.  It’s now below 70%.

Social Security says that the number of people on its disability program—slated to run out of money in less than 3 years—has ballooned to almost 11 million.  There are fewer than 40 million on regular ol’ Social Security.  It’s a big number, and it has grown every single year since 1983.  There are another 5.2 million on SSI . . . Let us hasten to add that many of the recipients really need the help.   But your favorite personal-injury lawyers are all over this.

Jim Sokolove, who has an office across from Bunghole Liquors in Peabody, advertises that he’ll “fight for the benefits you may be entitled to.”   May???  Ginger Lanigan advertises daily on Oldies station WROR in Boston, and Citizens Disability of Waltham runs radio ads assuring us that “there are a vast number of conditions that could make you eligible.

The Wall Street Journal says that Social Security pays the cost of your lawyer—it shelled out $1.4 billion last year—on the theory that lawyers speed up the process.

A stronger economy won’t fix this.  Last year Gary Alexander, Secretary of Public Welfare for the State of Pennsylvania, wrote that the cash and non-cash benefits available to an unemployed single parent of two in the Keystone State total more than $45,000 annually.   If she takes a job at $9,000 a year her total annual income, including the value of her benefits, will rise;  but from that point she has almost no incentive to work longer, harder, or smarter—unless she can find a position that pays $69,000 a year.

According to the Social Security Administration, the average wage in this country is $44,300.

 

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