In the U.S. we like to think we’re all about enabling people. We ban discrimination based on creed or color. We insist that facilities be accessible to the disabled. We brag about an America where anyone can climb the ladder of success.
We’re also a compassionate people, eager to help each other. That’s why there’s a generous safety net in place, to catch anyone who happens to fall while climbing the ladder. Welfare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps and many other programs are in place to help those who are down-on-their-luck.
The problem is when the safety net becomes an actual net, ensnaring people and preventing them from rising.
Consider the Social Security Disability program. Here’s a safety net built especially to catch those who are severely injured and simply unable to work. That’s been a problem throughout human history, of course. People get hurt at work, lose digits or limbs, or simply wear out after decades of hard labor. Many have needed some help over the decades.
However, in our time, most work is less physically taxing than it’s ever been. Rather than plowing the fields, most people ply computer keyboards. Rather than working with big industrial machines such as Stephen King’s “The Mangler,” most people work in safe office buildings. Even smoking on the job, once ubiquitous, is a thing of the past.
And yet, the share of the U.S. population on Social Security Disability almost doubled between 1985 and 2005. And that’s before the 2008 recession hit.
“A record 5.4 million workers and their dependents have signed up to collect federal disability checks since President Obama took office, according to the latest official government data, as discouraged workers increasingly give up looking for jobs and take advantage of the federal program,” Investor’s Business Daily wrote last year.
Not only are there more people filing for disability benefits, there are more people getting stuck on disability.