Published July 18, 2012
More Americans went on disability than found jobs over the last three months, according to fresh figures crunched by the Senate Budget Committee.
Underscoring the extent of the recent slowdown in the economy, the startling numbers show that between April and June, a total of 246,000 people enrolled in the Social Security Disability Insurance program. In the same period, just 225,000 found jobs.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking Republican on the budget panel, said the figures raise concern about the health of the economy as well as the disability insurance program itself. He said that since 2008, a total of 3.6 million Americans have gone on disability -- while 1.3 million lost jobs.
"The growing number of people on disability and other federal benefits, combined with weak economic growth, raises serious concerns about the sustainability of the American economy," he said in a statement.
The stat speaks more to the weakening economy -- a reality Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke confirmed in testimony to Congress Tuesday -- than any sudden growth in disability enrollment, which has remained fairly steady.
A total of 247,000 people went on disability in the first three months of President Obama's term -- at a time when millions were losing jobs at the height of the recession. Fast forward to the first three months of 2012, and 249,000 people went on disability.
While that number was roughly the same in the second quarter, the number of new jobs plummeted -- from nearly 680,000 in the first quarter to 225,000 in the second quarter.
Still, the disability rolls have continued to swell and threaten the program's fiscal future.
A new Congressional Budget Office underscored the troubled finances of the growing Social Security Disability Insurance program. The report showed $119 billion in benefits were paid last year to 8.3 million disabled workers. That represents almost 18 percent of all Social Security spending.
According to Sessions' office, the program has been running a deficit since 2009.
"Consequently, the trust fund is shrinking and will be depleted by 2016 -- just four years from now," his office said.
According to CBO, it will take some serious budget balancing to right the program's finances - the report floated options ranging from raising taxes to reducing disability benefits to changing eligibility standards to reducing the cost-of-living adjustment tied to benefits.
Sessions said administrators also need to do a better job of distinguishing between "proper and improper disability claims."
"The administration of this program must be improved to avoid sinking our country deeper into debt, to ensure the program remains viable for those with disabilities, and to protect Social Security itself," he said.
The disability program provides benefits to adults who've worked in the past but are unable to work now because of a medical condition. The fund is financed mostly by a 1.8 percent payroll tax.