Republicans Go Dissing the Disabled

Social Security Disability Demographics

One of the fine old  hirsute myths beloved by the Republican Party after they discovered (1) Social Security worked, and (2) Social Security was popular, is that we “have to save Social Security by reforming it.”  Their latest foray into dismantling Social Security in this fashion is an assault on the SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) program.

First, let’s note a crucial feature of the SSDI program:

“Unlike many other disability programs, Social Security’s covers only total disability — not partial or short term. Benefits are a function of how much a worker previously earned and put into the system, but on average these run under $1,200 per month. On top of this, a worker is allowed to earn some outside income, but this is capped at less than $1,100 a month.” (emphasis added)

So, the total a person living on SSDI could have per month is about $2,300– for a total disability.  Another figure which has attracted conservative attention is the fact that the number of people receiving these rather meager SSDI benefits has doubled in the past twenty years, the number now standing at 8.95 million to date.  Before we get too enthralled by the “massive number,” the plastic brains report that this figure constitutes about 2.823% of the entire U.S. population.  While contemplating the small percentage of the population receiving SSDI benefits, we should also remember that this figure doubled over a 20 year period.

Secondly, when Republicans speak of the ‘moochers’ who are on disability based income there’s a tendency to conflate the image of someone receiving state benefits for a temporary situation with the more rigorous federal program for those with permanent disabilities.

When the Republicans and other conservatives imply that the recipients of OASDI monies are back-achey-belly-whiners it’s time to take a look at who these people are (besides permanently unable to perform the work they did while paying into the Social Security funds, and being unable to adjust to other work because of the disability).

In Washoe County, NV for example,there are a total of 6,646 recipients, of whom 1,375 are “aged,” another 5,251 are blind or disabled. Of the recipients 1,097 are under 18 years of age, 4,070 are between the ages of 18 and 64, and 1,477 are over 65. [SSDI] We’d expect the largest number to be of working age, since the benefits are a function of the payroll taxes they paid during their ‘working lives.’  The total represents about 1.5% of the total county population.

There are 27,909 of a total of 37,209  in the blind or disabled category; 7,686 are under 18, 19,542 are between the ages of 18 and 64, and 9,981 are over 65 years of age. [SSDI] The total represents about 1.8% of the total county population.

The total number of recipients in Nevada is 48,817 of whom 11,591 are classified as ‘aged,’ 37,226 are categorized as permanently blind or disabled, 9,430 are under 18, 26,951 are between the ages of 18 and 64, with 12,436 over the age of 65. [SSDI] This yields a state percentage of 1.75% of the total population of 2.79 million.


The relatively small numbers, and really small percentages of total populations, involved in this debate might cause a person to wonder WHY the Republicans have targeted this portion of the Social Security Administration for attack.

A cynic might respond it’s because the numbers are small.  There aren’t that many individuals and households involved, and that means less public outcry over the maneuver.

It might also be a function of laying the groundwork for larger assaults later in the game.  If the GOP is successful at setting the table with cooperative pundits that the SSA is rife with ‘abuse’ of the program then later themes about the solvency of the total program will be enhanced.  This requires some ignorance on the part of those tasked with proclaiming the Republican message.

One would have to remain ignorant of some other basic numbers, such as of the 2,838,485 applications in 2010, 413,530 were in “pending” status, 878,497 were denied for technical reasons, another 688,348 were denied for medical reasons.  The total allowance rate for 2010 was 54.8%, a figure that’s dropped from the 62.8% allowance rate in 2001. [SSA]  A chart of the allowance rates from 1999 to 2012 looks like this:

Social Security Allowance Rate Chart

It might seem to the average viewer that it’s hard to sell the “blooming” rate of people on OASDI benefits when the allowance rate has either held fairly steady or has actually declined since 1999.

Whether it’s cynical, a prelude to later attacks on a very popular government program the Republicans have sought to attack since its inception, or both… the results are essentially the same.  It all plays to the haunts in the GOP closet – someone out there somewhere is ‘getting’ something he or she doesn’t deserve, and therefore no one should be able to ‘feed at the public trough.’  Be it the mythical Welfare Queens, or the Back Ache Cheat, the Republicans seemingly have made it an element in their ideological DNA to espouse a philosophy in which Rugged Individuals come without helping hands.

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