National Public Radio is running a series of reports about the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) program, as I mentioned yesterday. One of its pieces focused on Hale County, Alabama, and alleged an unusually high receipt of disability benefits. Other researchers have noted this geographic variation -- and implied that it's evidence of a problem-ridden program. Not quite.
Nationwide, about 6 percent of the nation's working-age population receive disability payments from Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but some southern and Appalachian states have much higher rates -- over 10 percent. This disparity, though, mostly reflects a few key demographic and economic factors:
Some people expect other factors, such as poverty and unemployment rates, to explain the variation of disability rates across states. But statistically, they're less important than the four factors listed here.