From t March 10, The Economist: THOMAS SCULLY has a busy law office in Lake County, Indiana. He mainly practices disability law, with good reason. Lake County is home to steel mills. Workers have aching backs and hands warped by machinery. Mr Scully helps them win Social Security Disability Insurance (DI), which provides cash and, after two years, access to Medicare, government-subsidised health insurance meant mainly for the elderly. DI is not supposed to be a safety net for the jobless. “I tell clients”, Mr Scully explains, “disability insurance is not unemployment insurance.” But they should be forgiven for being confused.
Politicians like to deride expensive programmes. DI may be the least discussed and most muddled. The programme is severely strained. The number of awards has spiked in the downturn, rising 28% since 2007. This surge follows decades of growth. DI accounted for about 10% of Social Security spending in 1989 but 18% by 2009. This is not because beneficiaries are bending any rules; the real problem is that the rules are a mess.
Congress created DI in 1956. Since then physical labour has become less common, while medical technology has advanced. One might have thought that DI rolls would shrink, but the opposite has occurred. Even compared with the Social Security Administration’s other costly programme for the disabled, DI is huge. Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which gives help to the very poor, doled out $43 billion to adults and children in 2010, up 124% since 1990. DI gave $110 billion to disabled workers, up almost 420%. See full article here: