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Latest Conservative Attack on Social Security: Disability Fraud Hysteria

Move over Welfare Queen. The Disability King is the new pet scapegoat for all that’s wrong with America.

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Conservatives are not happy. Despite their best efforts, the public continues to give Social Security a big thumbs up, and the President has just launched his second term with a speech hailing the program as a force that strengthens America.

You can understand their frustration. They’ve tried so very hard to make Americans think that we cannot afford to treat sick, disabled and elderly people with dignity while we subsidize the rich and fight unnecessary wars. But the public hasn't bought their solvency fabrications. And we haven’t been fooled by various pretenses for cutting, from the “chained CPI” adjustment to extending the retirement age again. Even the means-testing ruse, cloaked as sensitivity to the poor but intended to drain public support for the program, hasn’t worked out for them so far.

Conservatives still hate Social Security. Since the day the program was passed under Franklin Roosevelt, the greedy rich who don’t want to pay taxes and the financiers who want to stick Americans with private retirement accounts on which they can charge fees continue to invent new ways to attack and discredit the country's best-loved program. The think-tank minions and PR units attached to these Scrooges keep themselves up at night imagining new ways to dupe the public into accepting grotesque economic inequality as the norm and a downgraded future as the price we must pay for Wall Street greed.

Now the Social Security haters are taking a page from the Welfare Queen smear campaign book of the ‘90s to conjure a new scapegoat for all that is wrong with America: the Disability King. According to this meme, the problem with America’s economy and society is vast numbers of lazy, lying, good-for-nothing loafers cheating the American taxpayer through disability fraud.

You have to give them credit for chutzpah. Let’s take a look at the claims.

First, who gets disability? According to the Social Security Web site:

"Social Security pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not."

Conservatives claim that disability rolls are rising at a head-spinning rate, which must mean that the country is filling up with very clever malingerers. Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, recently raised a great hue and cry in the Wall Street Journal in an article whose title sums up his Mitt Romney-inspired political perspective: “ Yes, Mr. President, We Are a Nation of Takers.” (Eberstadt wrote a book with a similar title in 2012.)

Is Eberstadt referring to bankers? Corporate tax evaders, perhaps? No. He is outraged by the specter of shiftless American males who have decided to ditch work and file for disability instead. Apparently forgetting that the country has just undergone the most devastating economic crisis since the Great Depression, he conjures the image of “the American male flight from work” which is “so acute that more than 7% of men in their late 30s" have "totally checked out of the workforce.”

Never mind that it is work that has flown from the American male, rather than the other way around. Eberstadt insists on a plague of layabouts who are kicking back while rolling in sweet checks from Uncle Sam:

“Arithmetically speaking, the recent American flight from work has largely been a flight to government disability programs. According to the Social Security Administration, the number of working-age Americans relying on Social Security's disability programs has increased dramatically over the past two generations.”