Jack Ablin, a Wall Street analyst and the chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank, recently issued a report on the Social Security Disability program in which he asserted that legions of people in Oregon and throughout the United States are “gaming the system.”
As evidence, Ablin points to the steady 4.5 percent annual rise in work-related Social Security disability claims that started about a decade ago (after more than two decades of little or no change) and then contrasts that figure with federal Bureau of Labor statistics showing a steady decline in the number of actual work-related injuries over the last 40 years.
Ablin then takes these seemingly contradictory statistics and leaps to the conclusion that a large number of unemployed American workers have obtained disability benefits on the basis of fraudulent claims. As others have rightly noted as well, however, Ablin’s analysis here fails to account for several factors that could explain the apparent discrepancy he cites as evidence.
Those factors include a larger workforce, a higher percentage of older workers (Baby Boomers) whose decades of employment may put them at greater risk for developing repetitive stress type injuries, and the tremendous stress being placed on workers by employers who are demanding more work from fewer people and by constant worries about job security in this economy as well — both of which can result in mental impairments that may cause a person become disabled or serve as contributing factor.
Lastly, estimates of the total amount of Social Security Disability spending attributable to waste, fraud and abuse combined currently stand at about one percent. This means that even if Ablin’s conclusions are partially correct (i.e., there has been some increase in the number of fraudulent claims) — we’re still talking about only a fraction of claims and certainly not enough to justify throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as some critics have pushed for.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Disability claims rise even as work injuries decline,” Walter Hamilton, Aug. 22, 2012