The Washington Post Wants to Cut Disability Benefits

July 29, 2015

Actually, after running many near hysterical pieces on the horrors of the Social Security disability program, yesterday’s editorial was reasonably moderate. Nonetheless, it concludes by telling readers:

“Though hardly the sole, or leading, cause of declining labor-force participation in the United States, SSDI is nevertheless a factor. Reforming it could raise the economy’s potential growth, as well as millions of people’s life prospects. The pending crisis creates an opportunity for bipartisan compromise, in which Congress diverts more money to SSDI — linked to structural changes. The last tax reallocation, 20 years ago, ‘was intended to create the time and opportunity for such reforms,’ as the Social Security trustees’ report puts it; it would seem that the time, and the opportunity, are finally here.”

There are a couple of points worth making here. First, the reason that the program is projected to face a shortfall next year, rather than a decade from now, is due to the fact that we had incompetent people at the Fed and Treasury who were not able to recognize a $8 trillion housing bubble and that its collapse would do serious damage to the economy. If they had recognized this fact, they would have taken steps to stem its growth before it posed such a danger to the economy. If we had stayed on the pre-recession growth path, the program would be fully funded through 2025.

The other obvious problem with the Post’s position is that it implies that the Disability program is too generous. In fact, the United States ranks near the bottom among wealthy countries in the share of GDP that goes to disability insurance.

There is a point that the program could be better structured to make it easier for people on disability to re-enter the labor market. Some steps have already been taken along these lines in recent years, but undoubtedly more can be done.


Note: The link to Eurostat data on spending on disability insurance as a share of GDP was broken. I replaced it with an link to OECD data, which is to a broader category (would include SSI), but should give the general story.


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