One of the necessary pains of reporting is letting go of the information that never makes it into the final story.
Sometimes it happens during the editing process, when entire paragraphs and quotations are cut for length, lack of clarity or because, however interesting, they simply weren’t essential to the focus of the story. Other times it happens early on in the research process, when an editor gently steers you away from a subtopic that digresses from the heart of the story.
The latter scenario was the case this week when I wrote about the physical and attitudinal barriers to the workplace that have kept employment rates low for people with disabilities.
Toward the end of the piece, I was only able to briefly address the structural problems that prevent more people with disabilities from working – namely outdated Social Security laws. Because several people I interviewed emphasized SS as a big barrier, I thought it would be valuable to share some nuggets of my research that didn’t make it into the article.
From a letter to President Bush dated November 30, 2005 from the federal National Council on Disability (NCD), acknowledging that federal laws are part of the problem:
Our nation's current disability benefit programs are based on a policy principle that assumes that the presence of a significant disability and lack of substantial earnings equate with a complete inability to work. Americans with disabilities remain underemployed, despite the fact that many are willing and able to work. Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) has instituted a number of incentives to reduce the numerous obstacles to employment faced by its Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries, such efforts have had little impact because few beneficiaries are aware of these incentives and how they affect benefits and access to health care.
From NCD’s report on SSI and DI problems, also found at the above link:
Social Security beneficiaries with disabilities must spend months or even years convincing SSA that they are unable to work as a condition of eligibility. Yet, upon their receipt of benefits, SSA begins to communicate to beneficiaries that work is an expectation for them . . . Current SSA benefit amounts are quite small and merely allow beneficiaries to live at a basic subsistence level. SSI resource limits make it very difficult to accumulate the financial resources necessary to move toward economic self-sufficiency. Tying eligibility for Medicaid or Medicare to eligibility for SSA benefits forces individuals with high-cost medical needs who could otherwise work to choose between pursuing a career and retaining the medical insurance that sustains their very lives.
Likely a key factor behind the low numbers of employment and high numbers of poverty for people with disabilities cited in the TNS article and accompanying graphics.
Another interesting fact uncovered during interviews and research was this EEOC report showing a drop in the federal government’s own employment of people with disabilities:
The total federal workforce has declined from 2,630,755 employees in FY 1994 to 2,428,330 employees in FY 2003, a net change of -7.7%. However, the number of federal employees with targeted disabilities has declined from 31,860 in FY 1994 to 25,551 in FY 2003, a net change of -19.8%.
From FY 1999 to FY 2003, the rate of decline for employees with targeted disabilities was more that eight and a half times greater than the rate of decline for the federal workforce as a whole.
Perhaps there will be a time in the future to more thoroughly examine these issues, but in the meanwhile I didn’t want to keep this important information from TNSreaders completely.