Why Don’t Claimants Return to Work?

Our national legal association, The National Organization of Social Security Disability Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR)closely follows statistics on changes in Social Security. Past President and current Board Member Tom Sutton had a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal, about the decline in labor force participation by U.S. men. The original article described Social Security disability beneficiaries as having little desire to work. Read Tom’s letter below.

RE: The Worrying Decline of Working Age Men Article of Feb. 6

Very few people who receive Social Security disability benefits return to work, but this has nothing to do with disability recipients’ desire to work. It has everything to do with the fact that the Social Security disability criteria are stringent. These people suffer from severe medical impairments, including chronic illnesses and debilitating injuries which have left them without the capacity to perform substantial work (with or without accommodations afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act). More than six in 10 applicants for disability benefits never receive them because the legal standard is so strict.

As an attorney who has represented thousands of such people, I receive calls every week from former clients who desperately want to return to work, and I advise them about Social Security’s trial work program, which allows them to attempt work without immediate loss of their income and medical-insurance benefits. The vast majority of disability recipients have difficulty subsisting on the income provided by Social Security, but their disabilities leave them with no realistic alternative. Concerns about labor-force participation rates generally shouldn’t be conflated with arguments about disabled individuals’ motivation and desire to work, which in my experience is no different than that of other Americans.