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Business Review Board / May 29, 2019

Robust Economy Means Fewer Workers Claiming Disability

“For the first time in decades, the disability rolls are shrinking.” That’s good news.

The economy may still have some hurdles to overcome in terms of the trade challenges with China, but President Donald Trump is pushing a lot of the right buttons and millions of Americans are better off now than they were three years ago. NPR, of all places, has the latest good news story:

During and after the Great Recession, people turned to disability rolls in large numbers to make ends meet. This accelerated what had been going on for a generation, as the federal government’s disability insurance program saw steady growth.

But now, for the first time in decades, the disability rolls are shrinking. More people with disabilities are returning to work and holding on to their jobs. With unemployment at a nearly 50-year low, companies are struggling to find workers. And that means people who had trouble finding a job in the past are suddenly in demand. That includes people with disabilities. …

It’s still unusual for people to leave the disability program and return to work. Less than 1% of recipients do so each year. But the numbers have been growing as the job market has improved. In 2017 more than 51,000 people traded disability checks for paychecks, up from about 32,000 four years earlier.

NPR is quick to add that the trend is merely an indication of a “hot economy” than “any policy changes dreamed up in Washington.” Anything to avoid giving credit to Trump!

People with disabilities face a number of challenges, including workplace discrimination. It can sometimes be expensive to accommodate disabled employees. And while there are many folks who truly cannot work due to physical or other limitations, working is often a matter of mental and emotional health. NPR says, “Many people who become disabled suffer from anxiety and depression when they can no longer work.”

Indeed, there is dignity in work. Government policy should not be focused on growing the ranks of those receiving disability so the monthly jobs report looks better. It should be geared toward getting as many people employed as possible.

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