SSD growth is structural

A continuing concern for Congress next year will be the state of the Social Security Disability program. While they passed legislation last year that temporarily prevented a 20 percent cut to beneficiaries, Congress will have to deal with this issue by 2022, and it will be forced to do something with the overall Social Security system before 2034, or these cuts will be imposed on millions of retirees in addition to the disability beneficiaries.

One "solution" that is always misleading is the idea that stopping fraud within the system will fix the financial shortfall. However, even the agencies Office of Inspector General, which is responsible for investigating fraud allegations, only identified $416 million in fraud in 2015 out of $89 billion in payments, or 0.0045 percent. The projected 20 percent reduction, by comparison, would result in $18 billion in cuts.

The structural issues that have resulted in the growth of the program are well understood. Women entered the workforce in large numbers during the 1970s, and that has combined with the aging of many of that generation's workers to stress the program. Many people in their 50s are dealing with health issues that derive from injuries that were never properly treated due to lack of health insurance or due to the sensibility that it might not have been that serious and that they could skip seeing a doctor. Injuries you could shrug off in your 20s may leave you virtually incapacitated in your 50s.

This has left some areas of the county with higher concentrations of disabled workers, such as Southern Missouri near the Arkansas border. Many manufacturing companies have left the area and some jobs, like trucking, can lead to long-term health issues.

One lawmaker wants to help these workers by an imposing more frequent review of non-permanent conditions and allow some benefits after a return to work. Ironically, this would likely increase substantially the cost of the program and the cost of administering the program, as reviews of beneficiaries are as labor intensive as initial determinations and allowing workers to retain some benefits would mean a return to work would not save the system as much as full termination of benefits.

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