Monday’s Mtg: Why Do So Many Americans Draw Disability Benefits?

Did you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and that 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act? Me neither, when I chose this topic. I picked it, with its specific focus on government spending on the disabled, because the rapid rise in the number of Americans on disability in the last 25 years has made the disabled into another political football to be kicked around. Conservatives point to the increase in spending as evidence of widespread fraud and/or some sort of runaway “entitlement society” mentality. As Paul Krugman said, the disabled have become the new welfare queens. Progressives are outraged, etc.

Yet, it’s a complicated issues. The sharp rise in the number of Americans on federal disability income supports is mostly explainable by benign demographic factors, like an aging population. A lot of the money state and local governments spending on the disabled is intended specifically to reduce society’s burden of caring for them by helping them get an education and a place to live so they can find work and stay employed. But, when you add up all of these costs it is fairly expensive for our society to provide the full range of services that allows disabled Americans to survive and thrive. There may be legitimate issues here.

Which ones should we discuss Monday night? Like last week’s meeting on the transgendered, my first goal is a little education. I’d like us to learn some basic facts on who in America is disabled, why, and what is done for them at public expense. We could then get into how well these programs work and whether more should be done or less. Also, last week’s big budget deal that prevents national debt default (but not, BTW, a govt shutdown, which is still likely) included some reforms to Social Security Disability Insurance. I will briefly explain those changes in my opening.

As always, I expect (and encourage!) us to debate the core philosophical concern at issue: What is our moral responsibility to act as a community to care for the least fortunate among us.

Discussion Questions –

  1. WHAT: What does it mean to be “disabled?” How do the govt and others define the term? How many Americans are disabled and how and why? What are the trends here?
  2. GOVT: What assistance with living do disabled Americans need? What government programs exist to provide it? How much does it all cost and who pays for it?
  3. EFFECTIVENESS: Do these programs/services “work?” Big gaps, wrong focus, vary by state, etc.?
  4. TOO MUCH? Why have the disabled rolls grown sharply in the last 25 years? Are the reasons innocuous or have these programs turned into a de facto safety net?
  5. TOO LITTLE? Alternatively, do we spend too little helping the disabled and/or should more be done to support their ability to work?
  6. ADA: How effective has the Americans with Disabilities Act been? At what cost?


Next Week: Do we need more or less government regulation of business?


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