Government Spends More on Disability than Food Stamps, Welfare Combined

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Duncan Shares Perspective with CBS
CBS Anchor Ben Becker interviews Dr. Tom Duncan regarding mounting disability claims.

CBS Anchor Ben Becker interviews Dr. Tom Duncan regarding mounting disability claims.

March 28, 2013

When Planet Money reporter Chana Joffe-Walt uncovered a 'disability industrial complex' in which the government was spending more on the program than food stamps and welfare combined, CBS anchor Ben Becker turned to Northwood University Florida President Tom Duncan for insight.

"This is one of the 'dirty little secrets' about the U.S. economy and the labor market," said Duncan about the study, which highlighted the fact that 14 million checks are sent every month to citizens the government has deemed disabled.

"Since the economy began its slow, slow recovery in late 2009, we've been averaging about 150,000 jobs created per month," said Joffe-Walt in an Public Radio International (PRI) "This American Life" interview. "In that same period every month, almost 250,000 people have been applying for disability."

Duncan noted in his interview that U.S. taxpayers are carrying the load for this astonishing increase in the number of individuals on disability – along with the impacts on annual federal budget deficits and the long-term U.S. debt.

Among Joffe-Walt's findings are the following facts:
• The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it does on food stamps and welfare combined; America's two largest disability programs, including health care for disabled workers, costs taxpayers $260 billion a year.
• In some parts of the country, such as Hale County, Alabama, one out of every four working-age adults collects a disability check.
• As of 2011, 33.8% of newly diagnosed disabled workers cited "back pain and other musculoskeletal problems" as their reason for being unable to work. In 1961, the top reason for being disabled was "heart disease, stroke"
• Disabled workers do not get counted in the unemployment figures. If they did, the numbers would be far higher
• Fewer than 1% of people who went on disability at the beginning of 2011 have returned to the workforce
• The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program—which covers children and adults—has exploded. SSI is now seven times larger than it was 30 years ago.

To learn more about Joffe-Walt's research please visit:

Appointed Northwood Florida President in July, 2012, Duncan has become recognized as a valued political, economic, and social commentator for CBS, ABC, NBC and FOX television affiliates in the Palm Beach area. From 2007-2009, Duncan was Visiting Professor of Higher Education at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He served as a senior staff member to Missouri Governor John Ashcroft in education and policy management from 1985-1989, as well as Director of the Missouri Division of Professional Registration from 1989-1992. Prior to his government service, he was an assistant professor of government and public administration at Evangel College (now Evangel University) in Springfield, Missouri from 1980-1984. He later served colleges and universities in California, Arizona, and Ohio in faculty and administrative capacities.

Duncan earned his PhD. in higher education from the University of Arizona in 2005; an M.A. in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1979; his B.A. in government from Evangel College in 1975; and a course of study in preparation for Anglican ordination with the Anglican Mission in the Americas. He is an ordained minister with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In addition to his higher education service, Duncan has remained active as a chaplain and pastor in religious communities in California, Arizona, Missouri, and Wisconsin.