I once encountered an apparently able-bodied man who complained bitterly that “selfish people” wanted to deprive him of his disability benefits.

Count me as one of those selfish people.

Since meeting this member of the leisure class, I’ve become skeptical about the Social Security disability benefits program. It all too often turns out to be a racket for those who are infirm with regards to morals rather than bodily ailments (here and here).

The Wall Street Journal has a particularly depressing update on the disability racket. Headline: “Jobless Tap Disability Fund.”

The story reports:

Two new studies, one of them co-authored by the White House's top economist, show a correlation between when people seek Social Security disability payments and when their unemployment benefits are exhausted. Some economists say that connection shows many people now view the system as an extended unemployment program.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program was created in the 1950s to help people who couldn’t work because of impairment. According to the Journal, there has been an “influx” onto the disability rolls of people with moderate health issues. These are people who in other times would have worked and supported themselves without government intervention.

But government dependence has become so much the accepted norm in our society that many prefer to obtain disability benefits rather than seek work. If benefits are available and provide more income than an arduous, entry-level job, why not? It is a sound economic decision, but from a moral point of view, such a decision is a disaster.

The article says that there are 10.6 million Americans collecting disability, up from 7.2 million in 2002. There is no numerical measure for the moral decline this reflects.

Here is an example:

Ellen Marino, 62 years old, turned to the program out of desperation. In a recent interview, she said was pressured in 2008 to take a buyout after working 17 years in phone-directory sales at AT&T Inc. and related companies, and then spent months looking for work in both Florida and Utah. While she looked, she collected $225 a week in unemployment benefits….

But jobs in Florida were scarce, she said, and her husband was struggling in his real-estate business. To save the money the couple was paying for rent in Florida, they left the state and moved to a vacation condo they owned in Park City, Utah. As time wore on, she became less selective about the jobs she applied for, at one point applying to be a Wal-Mart manager and for work at a ski resort.

In June 2009, her unemployment benefits ran out and she applied for Social Security disability benefits. "I applied for disability only because I didn't know what else to do," she said. "I knew we couldn't live on no money, and I had to do something."

Ms. Marino’s situation does, indeed, sound unfortunate and I am not so hard-hearted as not to feel sympathetic.

However, the idea that the federal government, through my tax money, is supporting somebody who owns “a vacation condo” is making me cry, but not for Ms. Marino.

As for becoming “less selective about the jobs she applied for,” I can only say this: Ms. Marino, honey, if you’d become less selective at an earlier, more appropriate juncture in your journey towards taxpayer-supported ease, you might have found a job. 

If I am weeping for anybody, Ms. Marino, it’s not you–it's the taxpayer.