A recent article in the Los Angeles Times (9/25/15) summarized a new report released by the Social Security Technical Panel, a group which periodically analyzes program data and makes recommendations to the Social Security Administration (SSA). This group analyses have undermined the contentions of many conservative commentators who have derided Social Security Disability recipients as costing too much and being composed of those who do not wish to work for a living.
The Technical Panel’s research has revealed that the recent sharp increase in disability enrollees has ended. This year should result in the first decline in enrollment in more than 30 years!!!!! This would mean that the much touted disability crisis for which Republicans maneuvered to block program fund transfers on their first day in session so to create a showdown would come to absolutely nothing. Such a contrary result after so much preparation would be such a letdown for this group.
The Panel went on to state that the prior increases in the disability rolls were due to the well-known aging demographics and economic changes and had no relation to malingerers as conservatives alleged. Due to aging and entry of women into the workforce, orthopedic and psychologic disabilities have risen. Between 1980 and 2007 women’s participation in disability program increased from 46 to 72%. As the aging effect on disability applications has steadied, no further increase is expected.
Although this recent decrease helps to conserve funds in the disability system, it will not prevent a trust fund insolvency which will still occur in 2016. This insolvency will result in an automatic 20% cut in benefits to recipients.
The article went to propose a small reallocation of payroll tax funding which would shore up the fund and prevent any exhaustion until 2033. This would leave ample time to carefully plan and implement program changes without necessitating political brinksmanship as is being undertaken now.
Now, that the demographic shift scare has ended, the reformers can go to work and produce a workable solution rather than victimizing a defenseless segment of the population to further their goals.
What Really Is Going On
There remains a record backlog of over one million disability cases awaiting hearing which are not accounted for in this study which only analyzes enrollees and not applicants. The beauty of this study is that it places conservatives on the defensive who cannot claim that the recent decline in enrollment is only due to a contrived program by SSA to slow enrollment by delaying hearings and decisions on cases. Such an admission would be devastating. Rather, the delay has not backfired and provided the pro-Social Security disability forces with very good ammunition to fight their detractors.