Disability Insurance: A Hand Up, A Hand-out or A Human Warehousing Program?

A Lifeline For The Unwanted Man?
A Lifeline For The Unwanted Man?

No reason to get excited.
The Thief he kindly spoke.
There are many here among us,
Who feel that life is but a joke.

– Bob Dylan, “All Along The Watchtower.”


The old, off-color joke used to go like this: “What does the suburban American housewife do with her (expletive)-hole every morning?” “Send him to work.” Now it appears there is more money to be made in sending him to the welfare store instead. Compared to collecting disability, work in lower compensation postions is increasingly being viewed as a sucker’s game. A 2009 survey by the SSA found the following:

Recipients of federal disability checks often admit that they are capable of working but cannot or will not find a job, that those closest to them tell them they should be working, and that working to get off the disability rolls is not among their goals. More baffling, most have never received significant medical treatment and not seen a doctor about their condition in the last year, even though medical problems are the official reason they don’t work. Those who acknowledge they’re on disability because they can’t find a job say they make little effort to find one, according to a Washington Examiner analysis of federal survey results.

The numbers backing the above analysis were as follows:

* Returning to work is not a goal for 71 percent of the SSDI* recipients, 60 percent of the SSI** recipients.
* 75 percent of the SSDI recipients don’t see themselves returning to work within five years, 65 percent of the SSI recipients don’t.
* 72 percent of the small number of SSDI recipients who started a job while on disability got cash under the table, as did 70 percent of the small number of SSI recipients who started a job while on disability.
* 24 percent of the SSDI recipients lack even GEDs, as do 43 percent of the SSI recipients.


Other numbers from the survey that make a person cringe. 32% of SSI recipients rate their bodily health as “Good”, “Very Good” or “Excellent” while drawing a disability check from a fund they’ve never even paid into. 35% of these recipients describe their physical pain symptoms as “None”, “Very Mild” or “Mild.” 71% of SSI recipients are “Overweight” or “Obese.” 65% are 41 years old or older. 81% of SSI recipients have a HS diploma or less in terms of personal education.

So are these programs a hand-up or a hand-out? No. They are a warehousing mechanism. It’s what you do with people who have quit and just said “To heck with it.” We keep them alive, we keep them fed, and we shelter them. One of Fred Reed’s better cop columns describes what this system does for us.

I thought about granny, as I mentally called her, and the guys in the living room. They struck me as being warehoused. In all likelihood they were decent people, but they just weren’t necessary. Maybe most of us aren’t–the world wouldn’t fall from its orbit if, say, lawyers and columnists vanished. But most of us do things in the day that let us imagine that we aren’t just breathing. Downtown, many don’t. The men in the living room weren’t hungry, had adequate clothing, weren’t mistreated by anybody. They just had nothing to do, no trade, nothing to offer that anyone wanted. “Get a job” is great advice, but not everyone can. Someone has to want you.


Perhaps this is an unbridgeable impasse. I hear the retorts already. If you don’t give them disability benefits, are you mean Rethuglicans just gonna let them starve?! Let has nothing to do with it in many cases. Neal Peart once wrote a Rock lyric. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

We used to have a really powerful institution that took care of people such as these. It was called the family. Americans, as individuals, used to give a rat’s rear-end about their own. It could be that lost sense of responsibility, more than any isolated dumb government program, which makes our current Big Government model such an evil plague upon the human race. I’m convinced that one day the money funding all the SSDIs, SSIs, EBTs, AFDCs,…the whole alphabet soup, will run out. That will be a good day to me a mile or so underground in a well-fortified and provisioned bunker.

But that brings us back to an essential societal question. What are institutions such as welfare programs, schools and prisons really for? Do we want to help our people improve and get back into society or do we want them warehoused. Is it really moral to just stash people somewhere for the purpose of feeding them, fanning them and keeping them the heck out of the rest of society’s way? If that is the case, then it may be time to drop any foolish pretense of really believing all men are created equally.


*-SSDI – Earned Disability for those who paid into Social Security prior to applying for disability benefits.
**-SSI– Unearned Social Security disability benefits.


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