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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press CBS News 60 Minutes Joins the Disability Bashing Bandwagon

CBS News 60 Minutes Joins the Disability Bashing Bandwagon

Sunday, 06 October 2013 22:31

It looks like CBS News can no longer afford to do their own news reporting so they are picking up material from other sources. There seems no other way to explain the piece it ran last night on the Social Security disability program on Sixty Minutes which is best described as a spinoff of an earlier This American Life piece

The remarkable aspect of this story is that it completely ignored all the comments from experts in the field in response to the This American Life piece pointing out that fraud is in fact not rampant in the disability program (e.g. here and here). There were any number of experts who could have been interviewed on this topic to counterbalance the views of a far-right senator who is best known as a denier of global warming (Tom Coburn). But Sixty Minutes apparently could not be bothered to present a more balanced picture of the disability program.

The basic fact, which may be painful for CBS News and Sixty Minutes, is that it is not easy to get on Social Security disability. Close to three quarters of applicants are turned down initially and even after appeal, 60 percent of applicants are denied benefits.

If Sixty Minutes was actually interested in the incidence of fraudulent claims it might have turned to the authors of a University of Michigan study. This study identified a group of applicants who it considered marginal since they might be either approved or turned down, depending on the hearing officer who dealt with their case. Of this group (which comprised 23 percent of all applicants), 28 percent were working two years later if they were turned down. If we applied this to all disability approvals and assume that almost none of the non-marginal cases (i.e. more severely disabled cases) would be working, it means that less than 7.0 percent of the new applicants would be working two years later if the disability program did not exist.

Furthermore, the portion of this marginal group who were working after four years had fallen to just 16 percent. Their earnings averaged just 25-50 percent of their earnings in the years before they filed for disability. This hardly suggests widespread fraud.

Disability is a large program. That means there will be some fraud. This is not news, except perhaps at CBS.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is that the Sixty Minutes crew seems to think they are being tough for going after people on disability. Needless to say they are far too cowardly to say anything about the failure in Washington to push either stimulus or a lowered valued dollar to boost net exports, a failure that is costing the country $1 trillion a year in lost output

Comments (9)Add Comment
Bad day for network tv
written by Jim, October 06, 2013 11:56
This piece was almost as bad as NBC's interview with Rand Paul where he claimed 1 million jobs are lost a year due to the national debt.
Our Voice
written by James, October 07, 2013 12:49
Thanks for continuing to be the voice for the middle class and everyone of us except the 1%.

All the media including network TV and so called media with a self-proclaimed conscience would NEVER dare to do a piece criticizing the Wall Street boys, inv't banks, big pharma, hospital, insurance, etc.

They might get sue or an injunction even before the show is aired.

We can all say they are coward which they are. You don't know the sheer pressure from your executives and in-house counsel telling you don't run that story bc they had seen the legal team from the powerful groups threatening lawsuits.

No media correspondents like to deal with that. You run a feel-good story for the masses and then you and your editor have to do deposition. Who wants that?

Just the mere of threat is sufficient to thwart any attempt.
written by JDM, October 07, 2013 3:00
It's way easier to punch someone hobbling along on crutches than someone who can get away in their limo (and can afford to have bodyguards and lawyers). Besides, why would you want to punch someone who summers next to you on the Cape or in the Hamptons?
What is Disabled?
written by Robert Salzberg, October 07, 2013 4:11
As a physical therapist, I've seen many clients that would easily qualify for being fully disabled but continue to work.

The real lesson is that people who want and can work should be able to find work whether they are disabled or able bodied. The disability re-training programs need to be beefed up and the cruel phase-out penalties for fully disabled people who work the little they can should be eliminated.

Will this never end?
written by Jennifer, October 07, 2013 6:00
Also little noted at the time but the This American Life piece was basically a spin-off of a Nicholas Kristof piece that had been published a few months earlier. That piece had been criticized as well, which the TAL piece completely ignored. I don't know which is more alarming, the need to bash the most vulnerable of the population or the refusal to admit you are wrong/engage your critics in any kind of way.

Hey Robert Salzberg, from one PT to another, Happy Physical Therapy Month!
written by Squeezed Turnip, October 07, 2013 7:14
I know someone who went from middle school teacher (quit, because she'd never get bathroom breaks) and became an SSD determination specialist. She said fraud is about 5%, and she received extensive training to spot fraud. Her building has armed guards because death threats due to denial of qualification are frequent. The fraud team does follow up and does catch people. The people who get approved have 0 assets and can't even push a broom, unlike these shameless reporters.
MSM Takes Care of the Pennies, So the Dollar Bills Can Never Take Care of Themselves
written by Last Mover, October 07, 2013 8:21
... it means that less than 7.0 percent of the new applicants would be working two years later if the disability program did not exist.

Back in the day when the marginal tax at the high end was 70%, one could climb the ladder into the 1% and take only 9% of total income on average and produce added value at the same time.

Today the question is, how many of those in the 1% would still be working if not for the protectionist cocoon that shields them from the free market competition they preach for everyone else?

It's not unreasonable to suggest only 7% within the 1% would still work at the same job should the protectionist wall be breached with true free market competition.

The other 93% would surely scramble for disability benefits to replace their effective subsidy of economic rent held up by market power, as it crumbles from free market entry to erode the rent. Econ 101. Excess profit attracts competition. Imagine that.

But Sixty Minutes and This American Life can never compare the only 7% of disabled who would still work absent disability benefits - to the 93% within the 1%, the disabled "competitively challenged" who don't add value - to the extent economic rent is not added value. MSM sees neither one. They don't exist.

All MSM sees is the stereotype tabloid perception of another taker cheating the system, that perception depending entirely on a journalistic standard of "observable fact", those facts inevitably based in trite pennies, never the dollar bills, because the dollar bills are well hidden from MSM by design.

After all, what are sock puppets for? To uphold that old American adage of course. If one takes care of only the pennies, the dollar bills can never, ever take of themselves, can they.
net exports are bad!
written by joe, October 07, 2013 9:26
Why on earth should we labor to produce stuff we don't get to consume? Do you realize if the US ran a trade surplus for too long, there would be no more foreign held dollars? Then what?
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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.