Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Thursday, November 5th, 2015.

Social Security Disability Benefits a Leading Cause of Suicides, Says Wingnut

Obama Administration

This has got to be one of the most incoherent things I’ve ever read. Conservative writer and plagiarist Ben Domenech has noticed that the American working class is not doing so well, a fact that progressives have been hollering about lo these past few decades as conservatives like Domenech have championed anti-working-class policies. In particular he points to a study titled Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century. A quote:

From 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for US whites aged 45–54 fell by 2% per year on average, which matched the average rate of decline in the six countries shown, and the average over all other industrialized countries. After 1998, other rich countries’ mortality rates continued to decline by 2% a year. In contrast, US white non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year. No other rich country saw a similar turnaround. The mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics; Hispanic Americans had mortality declines indistinguishable from the British (1.8% per year), and black non-Hispanic mortality for ages 45–54 declined by 2.6% per year over the period.

If you look at the charts, the big leap was in the rate of non-intentional poisonings, which are mostly drug overdoses. This is followed by an increase in suicides and in liver disease, mostly caused by drinking. There was a smaller uptick in diabetes. And this effect is mostly seen in people with a high school education or less. Mortality rates for college-educated non-Hispanic whites have been in decline.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of reasons why this particular group might be stressed. Income inequality is a biggie. Blue-collar jobs that pay a living wage are in decline, for example. This is also a group that was most hit by loss of access to health care, and still is in a lot of states. Obamacare hasn’t been with us long enough to see a turnaround, IMO.  This group reports more chronic pain and poorer general health.

But according to Ben Domenech, the real villain here is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

In part, the reason for the ability of Americans to access SSDI as a kind of unemployment benefit fallback is due to a Reagan-era policy shift – via the unanimously passed 1984 Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act. This measure, which loosened criteria for eligibility, led to dramatic increases in those “hard to ascertain” diagnoses of chronic pain and mental illness as an avenue to benefit access.

Domenech says access to SSDI money has turned middle-aged non-hispanic white working folks into moochers who would rather stay home whining about their aching backs than go out and earn a living.

As a cultural matter, the picture is even worse. The surrender to the permanent trap of disability payments is a consequence of a loss of a certain American working class stoicism, which grappled with the tragic nature of life with what was essentially a 19th-century mentality. It was hard enough to deal with such a vision before the disintegration of working class marriage in the country – notice the contrast drawn by Charles Murray between the attitudes toward marriage and the experience of divorce in the white working class versus professionals.

Murray, like a lot of conservatives, gets things backward. The social psychologists find that marriage doesn’t give people more financially stable lives; they find that people with financially stable lives are more likely to marry. The moral, social and cultural erosion in working-class whites Murray clucks about did not cause the financial insecurity of their lives; the financial insecurity of their lives brought about moral, social and cultural erosion.

And if ease of getting one’s hands on SSDI benefits is causing all this sloth, how come it isn’t impacting black and Latino Americans, eh?

What Domenech is doing here is part of a campaign by the Right to attack and demonize SSDI, which they consider to be the “soft underbelly” of the Social Security system. If they can dismantle the Disability fund, maybe the Retirement fund can be whittled down next.  Rand Paul recently issued a diatribe about how Social Security was being robbed. Turns out that this was just a surplus of retirement funds re-allocated to make up for a deficit of disability funds, which is a normal thing. This article explains why Paul was screaming about nothing.

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