Economy trouble for SSDI: Applications rose almost in tandem with total unemployment from 2008 to 2009A 21-per cent jump, from 2008 to 2009, in applications for Social Security Disability Insurance has spooked authorities and pundits around the country. The lede of a Sept. 14 piece in The Washington Post reads, "The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked with the nation's economic problems, heightening concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled."
Worried officialsThe next day, this was posted at PoynterOnline: "In just one year, from 2008 to 2009, Social Security disability applications rose by 21 percent. That is a big problem. While only half of applicants get the benefits they seek, officials are worried that the growth threatens to sink the program. Disability claims are for people who have a 'substantial work history' and 'a medical issue that prevents them from holding a job for at least a year.' "
SSDI called 'hidden welfare'However, a day before the WP story came out, Slate ran its own take on the SSDI program, a caustic account headlined thus: "America's Hidden Welfare Program: Social Security's disability insurance is expensive, destructive, and out of control." Describing SSDI recipients as those "millions of Americans without work [who] have quietly continued to cash a federal check every month . . . [and who] don't show up in the unemployment statisticsnot even as 'discouraged' workersand . . . [whose] benefits won't stop after 99 weeks," the Slate piece profiles the SSDI progam, beginning with recipients:
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 criteriaby age, by type and duration of impairmentthat 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.