The Washington Post ran its twice-annual "Poor people in rural areas are all getting signed up as disabled" piece last week, this time featuring some of the most conveniently – almost comically – unsympathetic characters yet. They're poor! They're dumb! The only multisyllable words they use are trendy medical diagnoses! They're divorced a half-dozen times! Look at how many kids they have! Yeah, we get it.

The tiny detail that is wholly omitted from this story, which does describe a real trend and cites the statistics to prove it, is that the rapid surge in disability recipients is largely due to concerted efforts by states to shift people from their own social safety net to the Federal government. Things like unemployment insurance, housing subsidies, etc. are the financial responsibility of the states. Beginning in 2008-09 when state budgets across the country lurched into crisis mode, strategic governors and state legislators saw easy pickings in encouraging state social services agencies to push people toward SSI, disability, and other programs for which the tab is picked up by the Federal government. This saves states millions at a time when saving millions is of particular importance politically and practically.

You'd think that would be worth mentioning. You'd think an honest journalist would drop that in the piece somewhere, or that an editor doing due diligence would add it after the fact. Instead, the emphasis seems to have been on making sure that there were enough pictures of fat stupid poor people.

Be Sociable, Share!

26 Responses to “A MINOR DETAIL”

  1. Satrap Says:

    But that doesn't fit the whole "Federal government is inefficient and underserving moochers take all of our tax money" narrative. If the upstanding efficient states (who will totally do better. Also somethingsomething Private Sector) are only avoiding the same burden by Passing the buck.

  2. Nunya Says:

    Disability claims are the only thing propping up many towns that were once supported by a local manufacturer. Without some system of support, these towns would simply cease to exist.

    These payments are a lot cheaper than armed insurrection.

  3. mothra Says:

    Can't look at the article, but I was curious as to why the WaPo was deciding to run that story now. One notable thing about the people in this story is that they are white. So Republicans can't seize the old trope of mainly brown and black people being "on the public tit."

  4. BLOZAR Says:

    This American Life had an excellent episode on this topic in 2013 "#490 Trends with Benefits"


    It seems like an unsustainable trend which few politicians are willing to acknowledge let alone try to solve. Unless you are the GOP then this sounds like a job for TAX CUTS and victim blaming … as usual.

  5. RosiesDad Says:

    @BLOZAR: Yes, Chana Joffee-Walt (then of Planet Money) did a big story on SSI Disability in conjunction with NPR and the story was attached to a large web journalism piece.


  6. Delbort Says:

    Be terrible to waste an opportunity to look down on the lower classes by clouding the issue with something as tacky as context.

  7. Greg Says:

    The TAL piece was a terrible load of garbage very much in the same vein as Ed's criticism of this Post piece.



  8. Rugosa Says:

    Also worth mentioning is that this family is suffering. They have multiple physical and mental problems to deal with while in soul-crushing poverty. Have you ever been so poor that having your kids diagnosed as autistic would be a blessing, because of the (meager) disability payments? No, neither have I. First let's take care of people in need, then worry about the .01% having enough after-tax income.

  9. Anubis Bard Says:

    Mothra, you don't have to worry that there's some benign, non-racist rationale there. The current revival of racism as a cultural force has been given a convenient cloak of – "It can't be racism if I hate my drug-addled, dole-sucking, White trash neighbors just as much as I hate Brown people." Believe me, making the hate tent bigger doesn't do away with good old fashioned hate on the Blacks, Mexicans and Indians racism.

  10. BLOZAR Says:


    I don't share your, media matters, or the baffler's, view of the TAL piece even if it manages to somehow carry water for the Cato Institute (a thousand curses be upon them). Sure, the Mitt Romney types who can't throw a rock without hitting some filthy 'taker' would welcome any ammunition to fuel condemnation for things like taxes and public assistance but I didn't see that as the takeaway for the TAL piece. What I thought was that a social system that produces so many 'losers' is broken as hell and the ruling red state 'tax-cuts-uber-alles' + 'I got mine, F.U.' crowd will stoop to systematic fraud if it means they get to stick the feds with the cost of their disastrous policies.

    I mentioned the TAL piece because it made a similar point to Ed's post – that States see SSI as a route to moving people who would qualify for state based assistance programs onto Federal assistance programs and thereby avoid having pay to for the SSI recipient's benefits. The TAL story described a kind of state gov. malfeasance where some states employ private contractor 'counselors' who get commissions when they successfully 'counsel' state welfare/assistance recipients through the application process for federal benefits.

    I did not conclude that poor disabled people don't deserve help from the TAL piece. I did get the impression that the states are playing 3 card monty with the cost of supporting an ever-growing horde of economically superfluous people, it can't go on forever.

  11. SSI Says:

    I often wonder how many people reading articles about SSI spend time contemplating what it's like to live on $735/month (which is the max).

  12. Katydid Says:

    My anecdata about disability: in my extended family, there is one member who just lost the genetic rolll of the dice; 40-something years old with the cognitive ability of an 18-month-old. Mentally retarded, autistic *and* quite possibly schizophrenic. It took 7 or 8 years and multiple hearing to get this family member on Disability even though this person has a record since the age of 2 of being profoundly disabled.

    Periodically this person loses Disability status and has to requalify, which takes much jumping through hoops by the surviving parent (the other parent died early, quite likely from the stress of dealing with a profoundly disabled adult 24/7).

    On the lighter side, there's a nice little collection of mail from the local Republicans promising a job and touting the "dignity of supporting yourself". Sure–someone who can't read or write, isn't verbal, may or may not recognize their name, and can't be toilet-trained is very much in demand in the workforce! And how would someone like this get to work? In their sports car?

  13. Greg Says:

    BLOZAR your measured response to the piece is welcome and reassuring. When that piece came out I was working on disability cases at a free legal clinic and saw exactly how easy it is (not very) to get the pitiful $1000 a month when you are poor, Ill-educated, and don't want to sign over a chunk of your backdated award to an attorney because you really can't afford to. The TAL piece made me so angry I yelled at the radio , so if perhaps Hana Joffe-Walt managed to pull her head out of her ass by the end I missed it.

  14. Safety Man! Says:

    Seems like a good time to chime in that my time in the Baltimore reduced rent housing developments was an excellent teaching aid as to how tough poor people actually have it. They should reinter Reagan out there so he can keep eternal vigil over how his welfare queens actually live.

  15. Ten Bears Says:

    Not unlike the claim unemployment is at its lowest ever, without the caveat that that only counts those collecting unemployment benefits. Or the grander claim some ninety million people, perhaps a third of the population are not working, neglecting to mention they are children, the retired, and of course somehow "infirm". History rewrit by those in a position to get away with it.

  16. mago Says:

    Journalistic integrity . . . sweet concept.

    The poors, omigod, don't know how or what to eat, live in mostly toxic environments, and are truly ignorant of the forces guiding their choices and (extremely) limited options.

    About living on $750 a month, it's possible if you don't pay rent, utilities or insurance. Can't own and maintain a car, either. As for clothing, that's sketchy. In fact everything becomes restricted, and you can quickly find yourself in a dark place, physically and psychologically. I've tried it, and being poor is not recommended for a healthy life.

    On the other hand, I can do the bean and rice diet and walk or ride my bike, but my tastes are not pedestrian, and pulling out the survival skill kit is not fun. However, it might be good to acquire those skills, if currently lacking, because it looks like the sun's setting, not rising.

  17. Assistant Professor Says:

    This is one reason why even a Republican convention of states would never pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. One thing about the federal budget is that it provides a great back stop that allows Red State (and, if we're being honest Blue State) politicians to cut taxes and spending–Fiscal Responsibility!–yet again without the voters feeling the pain.

    Of course, the canonical example is education, where you have things like Pell Grants and student loans covering the gap left by states furiously defunding their educational system.

    This is, btw, why I'm often cool on liberal proposals for higher education that involve the federal government. Yeah, great in theory, but in practice, they give the states cover to further defund their university systems because Uncle Sugar is there to pick up the slack. And as a bonus you can still talk about DC politicians spending Your Money on Those People!

  18. Tim H. Says:

    Stories like that play well with people who are okay with exploiting other humans, and come from long lines of ancestors who were okay with that, always looking for shortcuts to wealth, and especially aghast at how inefficiently a human population produces remarkable people, so they're looking for shortcuts there also, just not in their immediate family. Perhaps it's time for a new definition of "conservative", as seen in english speaking nations, "Commonly short-sighted, ever on the lookout for a quick buck, shirks responsibilities at the least excuse and insensible to the suffering of others" might do for a start.

  19. democommie Says:

    "Perhaps it's time for a new definition of "conservative".

    Asshole; greedy, selfish, stupid, fearful, dishonest, –that works for me. Unless you're talking about genuine conservatives of which there are damned few, these days.

    I have not considered any of these people anything but reactionaries for many years. They do not seem interested in (and may not be capable of) actually encountering a problem, assessing its effects, determining its causes/formulating a solution and taking an action to resolve or remediate the problem. I also do not get a sense that calm deliberation is still IN them. Everything that they do in the Congress and at my state and county lege (as well, city hall) indicates that causing pain for the losers and giving yet more relief to their sponsors. What they do is the opposite of being conservative.

  20. democommie Says:

    Fuck, shit. Shouldabeen:

    "Everything that they do in the Congress and at my state and county lege (as well, city hall) indicates that causing pain for the losers and giving yet more relief to their sponsors is all that they are really interested in."

  21. negative 1 Says:

    Once upon a time coalitions were formed by pointing out how two disparate groups had a common cause. Maybe there's a coalition to be had between rural largely white communities getting SSI or other federal assistance instead of an economy and urban largely African American or Hispanic getting SSI or other federal assistance instead of an economy.

    At the very least it will make efforts to shred the safety net harder to play into racist fears, and at the most it will force a discussion on what we need to do if the economy can reach full productivity without double digit percentages of it having any kind of employment opportunity.

  22. Jado Says:

    "Maybe there's a coalition to be had between rural largely white communities getting SSI or other federal assistance instead of an economy and urban largely African American or Hispanic getting SSI or other federal assistance instead of an economy."

    This would be awesome, but i fear that the idea of a "common cause" with "those people" would cause their tiny little Fox brains to implode, and their giant huge Fox mouths to explode.

  23. Bitter Scribe Says:

    Beginning in 2008-09 when state budgets across the country lurched into crisis mode, strategic governors and state legislators saw easy pickings in encouraging state social services agencies to push people toward…programs for which the tab is picked up by the Federal government.

    If that's true, then why did so many of those governors and legislators refuse to expand Medicaid when the federal government, under the ACA, would have picked up 90% of the cost?

  24. Katydid Says:

    @Bitter Scribe; because the black man in the white house said it was a good idea, so therefore the conservatives had to fight it to their last breath.

  25. terraformer Says:

    Right, Katydid. Per "Cleek's Law" – Conservatives are against whatever Democrats are for, updated daily.

    I repeat my GOP acronym:

    Gaslight (what you're seeing/feeling/experiencing/have experienced isn't true)

    Obstruct (ensure that nothing that doesn't help the 1% is enacted)

    Punish (ensure that those who are not the 1% stay that way)

  26. Brian M Says:


    Interesting sidelight on antipoverty spending.

    Mississippi must be such a …special…place.