Thursday, August 25, 2011

Social Security Disability on Verge of Bankruptcy

I was of two minds after reading this story.  On the one hand, I do believe in a safety net for those who are in danger of losing it all and totally falling through the cracks.  I am.  What consists of a safety net in this country, let's face it, was never very sturdy and durable to begin with, and it has been weakened significantly, particularly in the past 10-30 years.  But after reading this, it made me think of the cheats that I know of out there, who have made a lifestyle of gaming the system, and as a result, have helped pushed this system to insolvency, and have made it that much more difficult for people who are actually disabled and suffering to get a helping hand. 

I think many of us know the type:  someone who claims to have a "bad back" to get put on disability, and then he's spotted doing things like picking up large bags or doing roofing.  I happen to have a cousin, who I have not seen or spoken to in a very long time, who made several bad choices when he was younger, got hooked on drugs, had some kind of mental breakdown, and then went on SSI (Supplemental Security Income, which means he didn't have a long job history).  This was many years ago, and he is still on it, to this day.  I know of another person, who I used to work with.  She could only work so many days a week (around 2 or 3), and a friend of hers explained to me one day that this was because she was on some kind of state aid (I'm assuming it was SSI) due to some kind of mental problem.  My question, unasked to her friend of course, is that she is capable of working, and is working.  Why is she being supplemented with a subsidy from the state?

Of course, there are many, many other reasons why Social Security is in big trouble.  Probably key among them is that our legislators have been using it as a piggy bank for years to fund other things, while never putting the money back into the program.  It's said by many that the Social Security trust fund contains nothing but a vast array of IOU's.  But at the same time, there are other systemic problems such as this one.  It's even being considered, according to the article, that they will transfer funds from regular Social Security to the disability program to buy some time, meaning that working retirees will get less. 

I want to close with a story, of someone I used to work with, and of why I am so conflicted on this issue.  He, supposedly, injured his arm one day and tried to go out on worker's comp.  While his claim was working its way through the system, he was still supposed to work.  With his arm in a cast, he was next to useless, but at the same time, I guess the state didn't want to give him a total free ride.  So he goes to work, he was never very popular to begin with, and no one talked to the guy.  Totally shunned him, felt that he was a bullshit artist, a goldbricker, etc.  And they were probably right.  But that got me to thinking.  In this day and age, with good paying jobs with a bright future for people being a thing of the past, and the current slate of jobs in which people are not paid enough to make ends meet, there's next to no chance of advancement (outside of middle or low-level management), no appreciation, everyone's expendable, when I take these things into context, I cannot harbor too much animosity towards the guy.  Maybe he worked 20 or so years (this guy was way into his 40s, at least), at these dead-end jobs, saw a way out, and he decided to take it.  You can "retire" 15 years earlier or so, on full SS disability, and make more in the end than if you worked until your retirement age.  So, on top of that imperative, this powerful motivation that is built into the system for people of questionable character to cash out early and for more money, you also have a meltdown in progress that is slamming working people hard.  On top of that, globalization has shifted well-paying jobs to the far east, and has replaced them with dismal service-industry jobs that are low-paying and have questionable working conditions.  There is already a segment of Social Security Disability that is suspectible to fraud by lazy people and hucksters.  But now, I think you have an additional component of people, who at one time were loyal and hard-working, before their jobs was outsourced or downsized, and who are now well into their 30s, 40s, or 50s, who are saying, "fuck it.  Wall Street got theirs, my bosses got theirs, my neighbor went out on SSI and got his, now it's my turn."

Of course, this is my opinion; I could be wrong.

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