Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes introduces the episode “Disability, USA.” (CBS).
George Zornick at The Nation yesterday wrote a strong critique of Sunday night’s 60 Minutes hatchet job on the alleged massive fraud in our Social Security disability system and claims that the system is about to run out of money. Senator Tom Coburn, with a radical pro-austerity bias, was the star—citing his own “investigation” and his “common sense” about the “scalawags”—so one’s antennae must be raised. Amazingly, the 60 Minutes report comes fast on the heels of a similar, and much-derided, NPR report.
Here’s an excerpt from Zornick, who mocks the evidence-by-anecdote focus:
The report by Steve Kroft made big promises, purporting to reveal a “secret welfare system” with its own “disability industrial complex,” and an out-of-control bureaucracy “ravaged by waste and fraud.” He also said SSDI might be “the first government benefits program to run out of money.” But when it came time to deliver, Kroft didn’t have the goods….
In other words, SSDI is a very strict program that denies far more people than it accepts, and needs a modest congressional fix to stay at full solvency. An interesting issue, for certain—but nothing like the benefit-sucking dystopia portrayed by 60 Minutes.
Love the hard reporting about people going shopping after receiving their checks every month. Imagine that! And experts (envious or resentful neighbors) testify to the fact that few of the recipients are actually disabled—I guess because they can still drive their cars to a strip mall and stand in line with others.
Meanwhile, the report barely mentioned perhaps the most salient fact: the steep increase in the number of people in the program is mainly attributable to the aging of the enormous baby-boomer population and the vast number of women who have joined the work force in recent decades—not to mention the continuing high number of long-term unemployed.
Economist Dean Baker slams the program here: “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 60 Minutes crew seem to think they are being tough for going after people on disability.”