Is Disability the New Welfare?

Photo Credit: National Review

The government in Britain recently did something interesting.

It asked everyone receiving an “incapacity benefit” — through a disability program slowly being phased out under new reforms — to submit to a medical test to confirm they were too disabled to work. A third of recipients (878,000 people) didn’t even bother and dropped out of the program rather than be examined. Of those tested, more than half (55 percent) were found fit for work, and a quarter were found fit for some work.

But that’s Britain, where there’s a long tradition of gaming the dole. Americans would never think of taking advantage of the taxpayers or misleading the government. Well, except for the couple of dozen people who have pleaded guilty to scamming the Long Island Rail Road’s federal disability system in a $1 billion fraud scheme. A billion bucks would pay for a lot of White House tours.

Though hardly isolated, the LIRR scandal is an obvious black-and-white case of criminality. The real problem resides in a grayer area.

In 1960, when vastly more Americans were involved in physical labor of some kind, 0.65 percent of workforce participants between the ages of 18 and 64 were receiving Social Security disability-insurance payments. Fifty years later, in a much healthier America, that number has grown nearly nine-fold to 5.6 percent. In 1960, 134 Americans were working for every officially recognized disabled worker. Five decades later that ratio fell to roughly 16 to 1.

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