NPR takes an extended, skeptical, and very well done look at the disability benefits system:
The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined….
In Hale County, Alabama, nearly 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability. On the day government checks come in every month, banks stay open late, Main Street fills up with cars, and anybody looking to unload an old TV or armchair has a yard sale.
Sonny Ryan, a retired judge in town, didn't hear disability cases in his courtroom. But the subject came up often. He described one exchange he had with a man who was on disability but looked healthy.
"Just out of curiosity, what is your disability?" the judge asked from the bench.
"I have high blood pressure," the man said.
"So do I," the judge said. "What else?"
"I have diabetes."
"So do I."…
Disability has also become a de facto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills…. People who leave the workforce and go on disability qualify for Medicare, the government health care program that also covers the elderly. They also get disability payments from the government of about $13,000 a year. This isn't great. But if your alternative is a minimum wage job that will pay you at most $15,000 a year, and probably does not include health insurance, disability may be a better option.
The NPR article also looks at the exploding numbers of children who get disability benefits: "People in Hale County told me that what you want is a kid who can 'pull a check.'"
None of this is to say that there aren't genuinely disabled people, or that there shouldn't be a government-provided safety net for them. But the NPR article, as well as previous coverage of the issue here and elsewhere, make the case that this is a welfare program with perverse incentives that is badly in need of reform.