Last week I gave a presentation at the Idaho Industrial Commission Annual Workers' Compensation Seminar called “Breaking the Cycle of Entitlement: How Do We Get Better?” In that presentation I discussed the rapidly expanding growth of SSDI, and how workers' comp can reduce the number of people we feed into that particular system. I also, in order to elaborate the greater trend toward entitlements in general, reviewed a few statistics about the current number of people receiving benefits from the many various Federal entitlement programs.

I discovered the very next morning, while I was on my flight out of Boise, that I had vastly underreported the actual numbers. I had used the estimate of 85,000,000 people earning benefits from one or more of the 110 Federal means tested entitlement programs available. It turns out that as of the end of 2011, that number was actually 108,592,000. In fact, it was reported Friday that in the last quarter of 2011, for the first time ever, we had more people on Federal means tested benefits programs than we had working full time in the workforce. The Census Bureau reported that we had 101,716,000 full time workers that year.

The statistics include the following, which I pulled directly from the source article:

Among the 108,592,000 people who fit the Census Bureau's description of a means-tested benefit recipient in the fourth quarter of 2011 were 82,457,000 people in households receiving Medicaid, 49,073,000 beneficiaries of food stamps, 20,223,000 on Supplemental Security Income, 23,228,000 in the Women, Infants and Children program, 13,433,000 in public or subsidized rental housing, and 5,854,000 in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Also among the 108,592,000 means-tested benefit recipients counted by the Census Bureau were people getting free or reduced-price lunch or breakfast, state-administered supplemental security income and means-tested veterans pensions.

It is also important to note that these numbers do not include “non-means tested” recipients, which would include Social Security, Medicare or unemployment. Individuals receiving those would not be counted in the 108.5 million unless they also received some other income from a means tested program. When added up, the Census Bureau reports the total number of people receiving government benefits from one or more programs in the United States in 2011 was actually 151,014,000.

That is damn close to half of our population. In fact, we had an estimated 311,800,000 people in the United States in 2011, so it is a shocking 48.4%. Compare that to the fact that only 32.6% of our population was engaged in full time work that year.

Talk about an unsustainable trend. Some of us better start putting in more overtime to pay for it all, especially when that number tips over 50% – which it likely has already done.

One gentleman in Boise, at the end of my presentation, took exception to what I had said. He originally thought I had called workers' comp an entitlement program. When I clarified that I had not done so, rather discussing how we fed an entitlement system, he further objected telling me, “but [entitlements] are paid for with taxes”. I am not sure what the relevance of that observation was, except that he might have the opinion that everyone on them should get them because they paid for them. If that is the case, it is a misguided argument. I am paying for them. You are likely paying for them. It still doesn't mean we are entitled to them, unless we develop a condition or illness that entitles us to access.

Apparently half of us are missing something here; and we can't figure out why the wagon we are pulling feels heavier by the day.

Boise, oh Boise, I was wrong about the numbers. I mislead you by drawing a rosier picture than actually exists. For that I apologize. It is worse than we thought, and we in workers' comp need to do our part to not aid this growing trend. We must find a way to reduce the number of people we place onto the disability roles, instead returning them to function and to work.

It is bad enough we have to feed the system with our tax dollars. We don't need to be feeding it warm bodies as well.

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