The Impact of SSD ‘Fixes’ on Unemployment

February 9th, 2018 by Attorney John Colvin

Person in Wheelchair

A former staff member of the House Ways and Means Committee recently wrote an opinion piece featured in The Daily Caller. In the piece, she says that tightening Social Security Disability – making it harder for people to get or retain benefits – will cause a spike in the unemployment rate.

The correlation between unemployment and disability is complex, and it appears that local economies and education levels may be part of the equation.

Lacking Options

To receive SSD benefits, an applicant must show through medical evidence that their disability prevents them from doing any type of work. Physicians have to make judgment calls about whether their patient is unable to work, and the criteria they use to make that determination can vary quite a bit from county to county.

In Hale County, Alabama, about one in four working-age adults receives disability benefits, according to NPR’s investigative piece on the rise of disability in the United States. Many Hale County residents have only a high school education and have always worked in occupations that require physical labor, so they may not be qualified for “sit-down” jobs (which largely don’t exist in that area). A doctor in the county told NPR that when he sees a patient who has a painful disability, he always asks about their education level. He’s not being deceptive in certifying a disability for people who have very little education. He’s determining that some people likely would be unable to ever find work again.

In the poorest, most underserved areas of the United States, disability benefits fulfill an important role. Unlike unemployment, which terminates after a certain time, disability continues indefinitely (if the recipient is deemed to still have a disability during subsequent case reviews). Benefits continue until death, or until the recipient reaches the age at which Social Security retirement benefits begin.

If the SSD program adopts stricter methods of disability determination, people may lose their benefits, leaving them no choice but to apply for unemployment benefits and perhaps leaving them with no income from either disability or unemployment.

The Big Picture

In 2015, 8.9 million working-age adults (and about 1.9 million spouses and dependents) were receiving SSD benefits. People who are not working and who are receiving disability benefits aren’t included in tallies of the national unemployment rate. When people point to a low unemployment rate as evidence of a strong economy, they’re not taking into account the millions of Americans who are unemployed due to disability.

Even if jobs are available, they may not be the kinds of jobs people can do, because of their specific disability, their work experience, or their educational background.

Advocates of SSD “reform” often allege that beneficiaries just aren’t trying hard enough to find work or that they’re “gaming the system.” But, as anyone who’s on SSD knows, it’s not an easy way to live; and when the checks finally arrive after a long determination and waiting period, they’re a lot less than the paychecks they had when they were working. Most people would happily return to work, if they were able to, and if they could find jobs for which they were qualified.

John R. Colvin has successfully represented clients throughout Tennessee and Alabama who needed help with getting the disability benefits they deserved. For 20 years, he has been helping victims put their lives back on track, and he is ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next or if you have any questions about this topic, call 1-931-962-1044 or submit our online form. Put his bold approach and client focus to work for you.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama