Happy Dependents' Day: Record Number of Americans Now on Disability

We have the Occupational Health and Safety Administration at the federal level, various state occupational safety administrations, and a mountain of safety regulations. Believe it or not, even the US military has its own versions of OSHA.

But despite the expensive presence of all of these agencies and regulations, a record number of Americans are now on federal disability, according to the Social Security Administration.

In May of this year, there were 142,287,000 people employed, and 8,707,185 workers taking federal disability payments. That equaled 1 worker taking disability payments for each 16.3 people working.

That number exceeds the population of several whole US states.

There is probably one unavoidable dynamic feeding the numbers, the aging of the Baby Boom generation. As they get older and closer to retirement and jobs are scarce, more of them will go on disability either for valid reasons or as merely a means to replace lost income.

But that does not explain this:

In addition to the 8,733,461 workers taking federal disability payments in June, there were also 165,469 spouses of disabled workers getting federal disability payments and 1,899,756 children of disabled workers getting benefits. That brought the total number of beneficiaries receiving disability insurance payment in June to 10,798,686.

That's generational dependency, at least to some extent.

There is probably another dynamic feeding the growth in overall dependency: We have destigmatized accepting government handouts. Welfare reform grew to become a dominant issue in the 1990s, but has receded after the 1996 reform. The Obama administration has even gone a step or two beyond destigmatizing dependence, and now encourages Americans to have food stamp parties to get their friends on the dole. Disability and food stamps are not the same thing in terms of government programs, but culturally they can be the same thing in that both amount to dependence and both systems are easily gamed.