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Defining disability can be a complex calculation: Part II

Defining disability can be a complex calculation: Part II

| Jul 4, 2014 | Social Security Disability |

In our last post, we began a discussion about an in-depth report by National Public Radio. The report is called “Unfit For Work: The startling rise of disability in America,” and focuses on why the number of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits has climbed so high in recent decades.

Critics of SSDI often argue that “disability” is an ambiguous designation that allows people to receive benefits for dubious health problems. The truth is that getting approved for SSD benefits is very difficult for many applicants, and many deserving individuals are denied. Moreover, “disability” is designation that necessarily relies on more than just a medical or mental-health diagnosis.

Half a century ago, the American market offered plenty of jobs that involved low-skilled labor and did not require a college degree. Over time, however, manufacturing jobs have been outsourced or replaced by robots. The market for unskilled labor has shrunk considerably.

If you have the skills, education and training to do a “desk job,” you may be able to keep working despite a disability like chronic back pain. If you have that same disability but are only qualified for jobs that require manual labor or hours of standing, your disability truly does make it impossible for you to continue working.

There is a popular narrative among SSD critics saying that individuals want to be on disability simply because they don’t want to work or have trouble finding work (despite being able-bodied). This narrative is false. Being on SSD is not like winning the lottery. There are many drawbacks, including the fact that monthly benefit amounts are modest. No one is getting rich on SSDI, and many continue to struggle financially even after receiving benefits.

But to those who truly depend on Social Security Disability Insurance, the program is a critical safety net. Without it, millions more Americans would be destitute because of their physical or mental-health disabilities.

Source: National Public Radio, “Unfit For Work: The startling rise of disability in America,” Chana Joffe-Walt, March 22, 2013