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Different states have varying numbers of disability beneficiaries, with the highest percentages occurring in southern, rural states like Kentucky and Alabama.  So, why would this be?  The data from the Social Security Administration offers an explanation.

Disability rates are tied to educational attainment.

In today’s economy, where even college graduates with 4-year degrees are struggling to find work, those who have not graduated high school find themselves in a difficult position when they can no longer do their job after an illness or injury.  Farm work, factory work, construction and other types of manual jobs welcome workers without a college degree or GED, but are physically taxing.  When an illness or injury prevents one of these workers from walking, lifting, and standing, there is often no other alternative type of work he or she can do.  The barrier to entry for other types of work is too high (and often too expensive, in the case of college education).

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In general, blue-collar and industrial workers across the United States are more likely to rely on disability after an illness or injury.

Most desk jobs require advanced interpersonal skills, science and math skills, or creativity.  For those whose skills are more hands-on, like machinists, artisans, laborers and repairers, there is often no way to easily get a job with few physical requirements after a broken arm or strained back.  And when it comes to chronic pain, those who do most of their work behind a desk can more easily manage their condition than those who operate heavy machinery.  Side effects like dizziness or drowsiness may cause a loss in productivity in the office, but they could mean a life-threatening accident in the warehouse or construction yard. 

For disability recipients who want to go back to work, the Social Security Administration offers help.

The statistics may seem bleak, but a disability doesn’t have to mean the end of your working years if you were a blue-collar or industrial worker.  The SSA offers the Ticket to Work program, which links up disability beneficiaries with free service providers called Employment Networks, while continuing to provide healthcare.  Here is an example of a carpenter who became an estimator and project manager with help from the Ticket to Work program after losing his arm. 

Joni Beth Bailey is a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability lawyer.


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