60 Minutes does what? Social Security Disability

From the Los Angelos Times comes this article on Social Security Disability and reporting:

Is it possible for a major news organization to produce a story about the Social Security disability program without interviewing a single disabled person or disability advocate?

That’s the experiment “60 Minutes” conducted Sunday. The result was predictably ghastly.

The news program’s theme was that disability recipients are ripping off the taxpayer. Anchor Steve Kroft called the program “a secret welfare system… ravaged by waste and fraud.” His chief source was Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican with a documented hostility to Social Security. Coburn has a report on the disability program’s purported flaws due out Monday. Good of “60 Minutes” to give him some free publicity.

Together Kroft and Coburn displayed a rank ignorance about the disability program: how it works, who the beneficiaries are, why it has grown. This is especially shocking because after a similarly overwrought and inaccurate “investigation” of disability aired on National Public Radio in March, numerous experts came forth to set the record straight. They included eight former Social Security commissioners, experienced analysts of the program, even the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, Steve Goss.

“60 Minutes” apparently talked to none of them.

The rolls have grown consistently since 1980, but even though Coburn professes to be dumbfounded why, there’s no mystery. As Goss laid out the factors, they include a 41% increase in the total population aged 20-64. Then there’s the demographic aging of America, which has increased the prevalence of disability by 38%. (In case Coburn, a physician, hasn’t noticed, the older you get, the more vulnerable you are to injury and illness.) Then there’s the entry of women into the workforce in large numbers, which has brought many of them under Social Security coverage for the first time.

Finally, there’s the economy. When jobs are scarce, more people land on the disability rolls, but that’s not about people treating it as an alternative welfare or unemployment program, as “60 Minutes” would have it.

The relationship between disability and unemployment is much more nuanced. As we explained in April, disabled people always have more difficulty finding jobs than others;

(hat tip DC)