CBS News 60 Minutes Joins the Disability Bashing Bandwagon

October 07, 2013

It looks like CBS News can no longer afford to do their own news reporting so they are picking up material from other sources. There seems no other way to explain the piece it ran last night on the Social Security disability program on Sixty Minutes which is best described as a spinoff of an earlier This American Life piece

The remarkable aspect of this story is that it completely ignored all the comments from experts in the field in response to the This American Life piece pointing out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program (e.g. here and here). There were any number of experts who could have been interviewed on this topic to counterbalance the views of a far-right senator who is best known as a denier of global warming (Tom Coburn). But Sixty Minutes apparently could not be bothered to present a more balanced picture of the disability program.

The basic fact, which may be painful for CBS News and Sixty Minutes, is that it is not easy to get on Social Security disability. Close to three quarters of applicants are turned down initially and even after appeal, 60 percent of applicants are denied benefits.

If Sixty Minutes was actually interested in the incidence of fraudulent claims it might have turned to the authors of a University of Michigan study. This study identified a group of applicants who it considered marginal since they might be either approved or turned down, depending on the hearing officer who dealt with their case. Of this group (which comprised 23 percent of all applicants), 28 percent were working two years later if they were turned down. If we applied this to all disability approvals and assume that almost none of the non-marginal cases (i.e. more severely disabled cases) would be working, it means that less than 7.0 percent of the new applicants would be working two years later if the disability program did not exist.

Furthermore, the portion of this marginal group who were working after four years had fallen to just 16 percent. Their earnings averaged just 25-50 percent of their earnings in the years before they filed for disability. This hardly suggests widespread fraud.

Disability is a large program. That means there will be some fraud. This is not news, except perhaps at CBS.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is that the Sixty Minutes crew seems to think they are being tough for going after people on disability. Needless to say they are far too cowardly to say anything about the failure in Washington to push either stimulus or a lowered valued dollar to boost net exports, a failure that is costing the country $1 trillion a year in lost output


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