A reader writes:

Your reader's story about two undeserving men receiving Social Security disability sounds like bullshit to me. There is no way anyone could collect a SS disability check if they had a spouse worth millions, as your reader states, unless there was fraud involved. Also, it is very hard to believe that anyone could receive a monthly check in the amount of $2500. I have a friend who lives in New York, and she has Cerebral Palsy. She receives a monthly check of roughly $750.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people on SS disability who could work. However, let's not kid ourselves into thinking thinking that they are making a small fortune off the system.

Another reader is also "suspicious":

I suspect that even if what your reader saying about the condition of the people and amount of monthly benefits is true, that the people in question had private disability insurance in addition to Social Security.  Social Security Disability just isn't that generous.  There's a Social Security calculator here.  Go play with it. 

You'll see that in order to get a Social Security Disability payment of $2500 a month at age 55, you'll have had to have been making somewhere north of $100k for a substantial length of time - probably the last ten years of your working life.  Which a high school graduate is rather unlikely to make in this society, and even less so in North Carolina, where salaries are lower than say, New York or LA.  If they did, good for them.  But it's implausible.   

(As an example, if you take a person born in 1960, and give him $50,000 a year from 1978 to 1989, $75,000 a year from 1990 to 1999 and then $100,000 a year from 2000 to the present, all, you would agree, amounts *way* above the average for someone with just a high school degree, you'd get $2442 a month in benefits, or just over $29,000 a year in benefits - a substantial amount of money, sure, but a 70% cut in money from pre-disability pay, which most people wouldn't do willingly without some measure of desperation.)


I'm the disability lawyer who wrote to you recently. Re: your latest reader, who knows "two people right now who are on Social Security disability and could work. Both are overweight men in their mid to late 50s...Both are only high school educated and would have trouble finding a job in eastern NC."

(a) It is not clear to me why your reader objects to disability for somebody with documented health problems, insufficient education to do office work, and no realistic job prospects, especially in competition with much younger workers.

(b) Social Security's rule is that if you can't work on a “on a regular and continuing basis...8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work schedule,” then you're disabled. I suspect these mens' doctors are better judges than your reader of whether they can work a full 40-hour week on a regular, continuing basis.

(c) The Social Security Act requires Social Security to consider, when deciding disability, "age, education, and work experience" (see here, and scroll down to subsection (d)(2).) To implement this Congressional mandate, Social Security has the following rules:

(i) If your impairments prevent you from doing your own past work, you have no transferable skills or education, and you are limited to "sedentary" work (mostly sitting, about 2 hours/day walking), then you are disabled at age 50.

(ii) If your impairments prevent you from doing your own past work, you have no transferable skills or education, and you are limited to "light" work (mostly standing and walking, but not much lifting), then you're disabled at age 55.

In the Social Security terminology used by the rules, age 55-59 is "advanced age," age 50-54 is "closely approaching advanced age," and "ditto" is "Do."

As your reader describes these men, it appears Social Security has correctly applied the rules. Is your reader willing to pay higher taxes to fund retraining programs, so people like this could do office work? Is your reader willing to pay higher taxes to fund government stimulus, to create jobs people like this might actually be able to get? Does your reader want Social Security benefits means-tested, and is he willing to have that means test applied to himself? If not, then your reader needs to quit complaining about the rules.

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