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Drawing the right conclusions from SSD data: Part II

In yesterday’s post we began a critique of the conclusions drawn in a recent report about Social Security Disability Insurance statistics. The report was released by a group called the National Center for Policy Analysis and authored by one of the group’s senior fellows, a woman named Pamela Villarreal.

Data reveal that the number of women receiving Social Security Disability benefits has been climbing steadily since about 2000, but growth can be seen starting back in the 1970s. These data are likely accurate, but the conclusions Villarreal draws from the data are highly debatable.

Villarreal says that SSD enrollment may be growing rapidly because Americans (and American women in particular) may be using it as an alternative source of income in a weak job market. She also suggests that women may be using it as a “bridge to retirement.” In other words, they choose to go on SSD until they reach retirement age.

There is almost no evidence to support these theories and much evidence to contradict them. America’s standard for proving disability is more stringent than the standards of nearly all other industrialized nations. Among those who apply for disability benefits, roughly 40 percent are approved after exhausting all appeals. This means that about six in 10 applicants are unsuccessful. For most people who are slightly disabled but can nonetheless work, job hunting is almost certainly easier (and more likely to be successful) than applying for SSD.

Moreover, Villarreal’s comments imply that people can be approved for disability benefits with only a vague diagnosis or a “slight ailment.” In reality, the burden of medical proof is a very difficult one to meet, particularly for those who suffer from conditions like fibromyalgia. This disease (characterized by chronic pain and fatigue) is usually debilitating, but those who suffer from fibromyalgia often have a very difficult time getting approved for benefits. This is because symptoms of the disease are largely self-reported and there is no blood test that can confirm a diagnosis.

From the data, it seems clear that a growing number of women are receiving SSD benefits. The reasons for this growth may be a matter of some speculation, but the free-ride and SSD-fraud theories suggested by the NCPA report’s author are wild speculation at best.

Source: Newsmax.com, "Study: Record Number of Women Receiving Disability Payments," Andrea Billups, May 29, 2014

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