The Atlantic has a great piece up by Jordan Weissman on a toxic and underreported welfare program that’s paying workers to stay off the job:
I’m talking about Social Security’s disability insurance program, which over 20 years has quietly morphed into one of the largest, yet least talked about, pieces of the social safety net. Since the early 1990s, the number of former workers receiving payments under it has more than doubled to about 8.5 million, as shown in Planet Money’s graph below. 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.
How did disability insurance balloon into a welfare free-for-all? Here’s Weissman’s most concise explanation:
[A]fter the Reagan administration began trying to thin out the program’s rolls in the early 80s, an angry Congress reacted by loosening its criteria. Suddenly, subjective measures like self-reported pain or mental health problems earned more weight under Social Security’s formula.
While you’re at it, complement your reading of Weissman’s piece with this report by Chana Joffe-Walt on the problems posed by disability. If lawmakers seriously want to rein in entitlement costs (they don’t, but let’s pretend), tightening the standards for the disability insurance program would be a good place to start.