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Criticism of the social security disability programs over the past year had been steady in the conservative press.  Recent articles have featured the “hook” line that the number of persons on social security disability now exceeds the population of New York City.  Conservative representative Allen West likened being on social security disability to “slavery”.

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The allegation set out in an article by Paul Roderick Gregory titled “Add Disability to Obama’s Anti-Jobs Policies” is that the social security disability programs are being used by the Obama Administration as an alternative to unemployment insurance. In other words, this pundit claims that disability benefits are being awarded to Americans who are in fact able to work, but simply cannot find a job.

I find it particularly rich that the conservative and business-oriented publications like the Wall Street Journal and Forbes – publications that stood silently by as Wall Street investment bankers raped and pillaged and caused the Recession/Depression we are still in – now seek to pillory the poor unemployed desperate to put food on the table.

Nonetheless, the allegation should be considered: social security disability approvals are up over the past 5 years.  Specifically, 20% over the past 4 years. It is, moreover, true that Americans on disability are not “counted” as unemployed, so the Obama administration could have an incentive to up disability approvals to keep the all important unemployment numbers down.

Yet none of the “conspiracy theorists” like Mr. Gregory have any proof that the Obama Administration has issued orders that more social security disability applications should be approved. No leaked memos, or ex-Social Security or DDS employees alleging they were told to increase the approval rate have been revealed.  In a society and time when nobody can seem to keep a secret, I find it incredible that an order would have gone out to all fifty states to approve more social security disability claims and no one would reveal this to the press.

So why then are disability approvals up?  One clear reason is demographics: our population is aging, and with age comes more incidence of disability.   But the 20% increase in the last 4 years cannot be explained just by demographics.

Is there is connection between the 2008 Recession/Depression and the jobless recovery, and the increase in persons on social security disability?  I think it is likely that there is, but not in the sense that social security disability decisionmakers have decided to “warehouse” the unemployed to keep the unemployment numbers down.  Rather, in good economic times many persons with disabiling medical conditions are able to stay employed.  In addiiton, when decision makers for social security are faced with a “close” disability case they may be more inclined to say “yes” knowing the claimant is of advancing age and very unlikely find employment.

The kerfuffle over how many persons are on social security disability misses the point.  The problem remains the absence of good quality, low skill jobs.  More persons on the disability rolls who have improved in health would be leaving the disability roles if good jobs were available.  The conservative, business dominated politicians trumpets the virtues of low wage jobs going to Mexico and Asia, yet now seeks to “blame” those Americans displaced by these market force who have medical problems and few options to survive.

So is being on social security disability like being a slave as Representative Allen West alleges?  Try telling that to the countless persons I have represented over the last 20 years who have burst into tears of relief upon finding they have been approved for social security disability.