In 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Paletta reported on the rapid growth in individuals applying for and receiving Social Security disability benefits. Paletta found that Puerto Rico had become a particularly easy place to obtain benefits. Officials with the Social Security Administration (SSA) absurdly claimed that nothing was amiss.
Several weeks ago, I witnessed an able-bodied individual who had parked in a handicapped-only space proceed to put in a strenuous workout at my gym. Indeed, a casual internet search reveals that abuse of handicapped parking spaces is a real problem — so much so that cell phone apps have been created to help catch abusers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that federal programs intended to help the truly disabled are also being abused.
Rivers of red ink continue to flow from the federal budget, and we still face an entitlement spending crisis. But you wouldn’t know it from the priorities of the two political parties: President Obama has been busy pushing for more “investment” spending, and the Republicans have been consumed by the administration’s scandals.
The 2013 Social Security Trustees’ report, released last week, is proof positive that you really can make numbers say whatever you want. By highlighting one set of “asset reserves” that showed some growth, the report gives ammunition to those who would rather not deal with the fact that the program is on a path to disaster.
One reason I’m so bullish on Australia is that the nation has a privatized Social Security system called “Superannuation,” with workers setting aside 9 percent of their income in personal retirement accounts (rising to 12 percent by 2020).
It’s not quite on a par with 9/11 truthers or Obama birthers, but recently a number of liberal commentators have descended into the fever swamps of denialism by rejecting the most basic facts about our debt and deficit. Mind you, they are not arguing about the best policies to reduce the debt — taxe hikes vs. spending cuts — but actually denying that the problem exists at all.
One of the first things I did upon joining Cato in 2004 was to develop a Social Security benefit calculator. That work would later contribute to my book on the outcomes of different Social Security reform proposals.
Like other government hand-out programs, the unemployment insurance system suffers from a substantial fraud problem. The Washington Post reports that 90 D.C. city employees and 40 former employees are being investigated for grabbing UI benefits to which they were not entitled. The cost of this fraud has been about $800,000 since 2009.