When I worked at USNews & World Report, I once wrote a story about an Electrolux refrigerator plant in Greenville, Michigan. It shut down several years ago, taking 3,000 jobs with it. Even though it had been clear for years that Electrolux was likely going to shift production to Mexico, the workers I met had done almost nothing to prepare for the eventuality. And few seemed willing to move to cities or states with better economies.
So what happened to those unemployed, blue-collar fiftysomethings? A good chance some of them went on Social Security Disability ostensibly due to musculoskeletal issues or mental illness. The Atlantic’s Jordan Weissmann, summing up an NPR story:
1. Since the early 1990s, the number of former workers receiving payments under it has more than doubled to about 8.5 million.
2. More than five percent of all eligible adults are now on the rolls, up from around 3 percent twenty years ago. Add in children and spouses who also get checks, and the grand tally comes to 11.5 million.
3. As of 2010, its monthly cash payments accounted for nearly one out of every five Social Security dollars spent, or about $124 billion. In 1988, by comparison, it accounted for just one out of eight Social Security dollars. Because disabled workers qualify for Medicare, they also added $59 billion to the government’s healthcare tab.
It’s not that severe disabilities have become more common. It’s just that it’s now easier to qualify, and the changing economy had created an incentive to claim injury. Here’s Reihan Salam on the Dutch solution.