In Obama’s economy, it’s easier to collect a check than a job.
Michael White says he wishes he still could pluck the bass line to Hank Williams Jr.’s “Born to Boogie” and pay bills with money he earns himself. High unemployment — along with ailments that he says render his fingers inoperative and make him cough up blood — have dashed his hopes.
White is among the 1.6 million Americans who’ve claimed Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, since the 18- month recession began in 2007. When the slump reduced demand for tow-truck drivers, the 60-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, resident, who has also worked as a musician, lost the job he’d held for five years and started collecting unemployment benefits
Complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, diabetes and other medical problems then made it impossible for him to return to a labor market that lacks opportunities for people with health problems and those in better shape.
“I can’t stress enough that I’d rather be working, but my health has gotten the worst of me, and any place I would have applied wouldn’t have hired me,” White says.
The number of workers receiving SSDI jumped 22 percent to 8.7 million in April from 7.1 million in December 2007, Social Security data show. That helps explain as much as one quarter of the decline in the U.S. labor-force participation rate during the period, according to economists at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.
The participation rate — the share of working-age people holding a job or seeking one — was 63.8 percent in March after falling to a three-decade low of 63.7 percent in January. Disability recipients may account for as much as 0.5 percentage point of the more than 2 point drop since the end of 2007, the economists calculate, and that contribution couldgrow when some extended unemployment benefits expire at the end of this year.
A three-decade low? How can this be with Obama creating and saving all those make-believe shovel ready jobs.
“How we measure and understand what’s going on in the economy can be influenced by the degree to which various public- support programs are available and being used,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan in New York. “With a rising number of disability beneficiaries, there are both lower unemployment rates and lower participation rates.”
More light may be shed tomorrow on the participation rate, when the Labor Department releases its April payroll report. Employers probably added 160,000 new workers last month, while the jobless rate held at 8.2 percent, according to the median forecasts of economists in Bloomberg News surveys.