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Disability Benefits NOT a Shadow Unemployment Program

New York City Workers' CompensationOf the many attacks made on the federal system designed to provide disability income to residents of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the rest of the nation, one of the most common allegations is that Social Security Disability (SSD) is functioning as a de facto unemployment program. This allegation has been raised yet again by research published by Moody's Analytics.

Moody's reports that "as disability benefits became easier to obtain, the labor market's deterioration created an incentive to seek them." The problem, however, is that correlation does not equal causation. People do not apply for disability benefits simply because they cannot find a job. They apply for disability benefits because they are disabled.

Disability Benefits Protect Those Who Cannot Work

Moody's argues that disability benefits claims rise during recessions. This occurred in the early 1990s and it has also occurred in subsequent recessions. The conclusion that some have reached is that "the close relationship between labor market conditions and disability enrollment suggests that the program is functioning as a form of shadow long-term unemployment insurance."

But people who apply for disability benefits can obtain approval only if they have a severe disabling medical condition backed by medical proof. They must exhibit specific symptoms and there must be a record of those symptoms and the treatment they have received. All of these records must be provided by a licensed physician and they are carefully reviewed by disability claims examiners. More than half of all people who apply for benefits will have their claims denied, and those approved must be able to show that they cannot do the job they were doing in the past or any other job for which they were qualified.

A poor labor market does not make people sicker, nor does it make people more likely to have documented proof of qualifying disabilities. What can happen, however, is that when there are fewer job opportunities available overall, it may be harder for people who are disabled to find a job they can do with their medical condition. In a good economy, a person who is sick or injured may have a wealth of additional opportunities available in the labor market and thus may be able to find something that his health condition does not prevent him from doing. When there are fewer overall jobs, it can be harder to find these types of opportunities and those who are badly disabled will thus not be seen as employable.

Moody's suggests that "efforts to improve labor participation should include reforms to this program, so that it focuses on helping workers with health conditions remain employed, rater than encouraging them to stop working." There are already work incentives built into Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) that make it possible for people to try to work without jeopardizing benefits. Reforms should be focused on making it easier for those who are truly disabled to get benefits, rather than continued attacks on the SSDI program.

If you have suffered a disability in New York, contact the Law Offices of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP today by calling (800) 692-3717 or by visiting