More workers joined the federal government’s disability program in June than got new jobs, according to two new government reports, a clear indicator of how bleak the nation’s jobs picture is after three full years of economic recovery.
The economy created just 80,000 jobs in June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. But that same month, 85,000 workers left the workforce entirely to enroll in the Social Security Disability Insurance program, according to the Social Security Administration.
The disability ranks have outpaced job growth throughout President Obama’s recovery. While the economy has created 2.6 million jobs since June 2009, fully 3.1 million workers signed up for disability benefits.
In other words, the number of new disability enrollees has climbed 19% faster than the number of jobs created during the sluggish recovery. (Even after accounting for people who left the disability program because they died or aged into retirement, disability ranks have climbed more than 1.1 million in the past three years.)
There is obviously a trend going on….
The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked with the nation’s economic problems, heightening concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled.
Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, to 2.8 million, from 2008 to 2009, as the economy was seriously faltering.
The growth is the sharpest in the 54-year history of the program. It threatens the program’s fiscal stability and adds to an administrative backlog that is slowing the flow of benefits to those who need them most.
Moreover, about 8 million workers were receiving disability benefits in June, an increase of 12.6 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to Social Security Administration statistics.
About half of all applicants eventually make it onto the disability rolls – a percentage that has not changed appreciably with the recent spike in applications, Social Security officials say. The average age of new recipients is 49 – and less than 1 percent of them return to work, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Social Security officials say they are confident that their vetting process screens out most people who might try to get benefits without being qualified. But, they acknowledge, when jobs are scarce, more workers who might otherwise struggle through with their ailments try to secure disability benefits.
In bad times, the disability rolls are swollen by “a lot of older workers who are very much on the margins. Often, they are the first people laid off,” Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue said. “They can’t find any new work and they are desperate. So they have every incentive to try and get in the program.”