September 22, 2020
Isolation May Worsen Impact of Disability
A danger for working-age people with disabilities is that they become socially isolated, which can cause a further deterioration in their health and ability to function.
A good example of this vicious cycle is people with severe arthritis. If joint pain makes walking more difficult, it can limit one’s ability to do things with friends or be out in public, which means more social isolation and less exercise to ease the pain’s disabling effects.
A new Mathematica study connects this phenomenon to the sharp rise in the share of Social Security disability awards going to people with arthritis, back pain, and other musculoskeletal conditions.
Between 1997 and 2017, there was a slight increase, to 13.4 percent, in the share of Americans with musculoskeletal conditions who reported being socially isolated, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
Discomfort in social settings is also present in the general population – but at about half the rate, or 6 percent of adults.
Another contributor to social isolation is cognitive impairment, which includes confusion and poor memory. Cognitive impairments are also on the rise among people with arthritis and related conditions. The increase can’t solely be attributed to the aging of the U.S. population either, because the analysis controlled for age in order to eliminate its effects.
To understand the role of social isolation in disability, the researchers point to the vicious cycle between the two.
“Whether social isolation is exacerbating disability or disability is exacerbating social isolation,” they said, “the contributing limitations are risk factors” that will worsen a disability that already exists. …Learn More
September 17, 2020
2020 Disability Blogs Tackle Myriad Issues
Squared Away has featured numerous articles this year – the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – about the challenges that people with disabilities must deal with.
One in four adults in this country has some type of disability. What becomes clear when looking back at this collection of articles is the importance of ensuring that those who are capable of working get the support they need to overcome their unique challenges.
Employment rates, which are lower for people with disabilities, can be improved greatly if they receive support. One recent blog examined a program to assist people with severe intellectual or learning disabilities. The federal-state Vocational Rehabilitation program supplies coaches who help their clients find appropriate work and then smooth the bumps in the employer-employee relationship.
Another program that provides day care to children with disabilities has been effective in keeping their mothers – often single, low-income workers – in the labor force.
The logistical barriers to working are inherently higher for people with disabilities. Yet they are more likely than others to hold low-paying jobs with just-in-time scheduling or shifts that aren’t the same from week to week, according to research covered in an August blog. Imagine arranging special transportation or child care to accommodate these unpredictable schedules.
Economic factors also affect whether people find work or wind up on Social Security disability insurance. Amid the COVID-19 recession, researchers are concerned about the long-term impact of workers with disabilities losing their jobs. During the Great Recession, applications for Social Security disability benefits surged. Once people apply for disability benefits, the odds of ever going back to work decline.
Recessions are also an obstacle for people from low-income families trying to move up the economic ladder. Yet a researcher found that if they can manage to earn more than their parents, they will have more success staying off the disability rolls. One big reason: workers with good jobs and higher incomes are healthier because they can afford better medical care.
Our disability blogs cover research being funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration, which also supports this blog. Here is the complete list of the 2020 headlines:
Same Disability: Some Have Tougher Jobs
Same Arthritis but Some Feel More Pain
Disabilities and the Toll of Irregular Hours
Economy: …Learn More
September 10, 2020
Why the Mix of Disabilities is Changing
The mix of disabilities for people receiving federal disability insurance has changed in important ways that often reflect trends in the health of the population as a whole.
Two disabling conditions that have become a growing share of Social Security’s benefit awards in recent decades are mood disorders and various musculoskeletal problems, which include arthritis and back pain.
First, consider mood disorders. They range from depression and bipolar disorder to irritability and seasonal affective disorder, and they can hamper someone’s ability to work. Mirroring the rising share of awards for mood disorders, their prevalence in the population has edged up from 54.6 percent of adults in 1997 to 56.2 percent in 2017, according to a study by Mathematica, a research organization.
Second, disability awards to people with musculoskeletal problems like arthritis and back pain have increased dramatically. These conditions are often aggravated by carrying excess weight, so the rise in cases aligns with the researchers’ estimate that the adult obesity rate has surged from about 20 percent to 31 percent.
But a related finding about musculoskeletal conditions is more difficult to explain. Despite the growth in disability awards involving these conditions, the share of the population afflicted by them – about a third – hasn’t changed much, according to the study, which was conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers found one clue to this apparent contradiction in a separate analysis indicating that this population’s ability to work may be deteriorating over time. …Learn More
June 23, 2020
Recessions Hit Depressed Workers Hard
Anyone who’s suffered through depression knows it can be difficult to get out of bed, much less find the energy to go to work. Mental illness has been on the rise, and depression and myriad other symptoms get in the way of being a productive employee.
So it’s not surprising that men and women with mental illness are much less likely to be employed than people who have no symptoms. But the problem gets worse in a recession.
In 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, the economy slowed sharply as 2.6 million workers lost their jobs. During that time, people who suffered from mental illness left the labor force at a much faster pace than everyone else, according to a new study from the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The researchers compared average labor force participation, as reported in the National Health Interview Survey, for three periods. Two periods of consistent economic growth bracketed a period that included the onset of the Great Recession: 1997-1999, 2006-2008, and 2015-2017.
Labor force participation for people with no mental illness dipped less than 1 percent between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, roughly three out of four of them were still in the labor force – only slightly below pre-recession levels.
Contrast this relative stability to large declines in activity for people with mental illness – the more severe the condition, the steeper the drop. Participation fell 17 percent among people with the most severe forms of mental illness between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, only 38 percent of them remained in the labor force – well below pre-recession levels. …Learn More
May 14, 2020
Opioid Abuse Tied to Where People Live
In 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in northern Oklahoma detained one doctor charged with operating a pill mill that prescribed opioids to addicts for the simple reason that he presented “a danger to our community.”
While mental illness and unemployment are familiar culprits in the opioid crisis sweeping the country, the environment that people live in – including the prevalence of unscrupulous doctors – is actually important as well.
That’s one conclusion in a new study that found that people are more likely to become addicts if they move from an area with a relatively low level of prescription opioid abuse to a high-abuse area.
The research looked at more than 3 million people on federal disability insurance (DI) – a group that uses opioids at much higher rates than the general population. More than half of DI recipients are prescribed opioids in a given year. And since they are covered by Medicare, the researchers had access to the prescription records for Oxycontin, Vicodin, and morphine.
To gauge the impact of moving to a new location, the researchers created an index that estimated the extent of prescription opioid abuse in each U.S. county. The index took into account several factors, including the amount of opioids prescribed to patients and their use of multiple prescribers.
When DI recipients moved from a county at the low end of this index – the 25th percentile – to the high end – the 75th percentile – their rate of prescription opioid use increased nearly 5 percent, according to the study conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
People with a prior history of prescription opioid use were at particularly high risk of prescription opioid abuse if they moved to a high-use area. …Learn More
April 23, 2020
COVID-19 Could Increase US Inequality
A growing number of Americans can’t pay their rent, and the queues forming outside food banks hint at human need on the scale of the Depression. For Americans who were already living paycheck to paycheck prior to the pandemic, the $1,200 relief checks the government has deposited into their bank accounts are too little and came too late.
Few are being spared the financial fallout from the COVID-19 economic contraction. But economists predict the damage being done to working and middle class people will cause another surge in U.S. inequality, just as the previous recession did.
The big unknown is whether this downturn, which is unfolding more violently than the previous one, will do even more damage to livelihoods and produce an even bigger increase in inequality. Some economists say the unemployment rate is approaching 20 percent – double the peak reached in 2009.
New York University’s Edward N. Wolff, who has studied inequality for decades, predicts wealth inequality will spike again within the next two years. In the last recession, wealthy people lost money in the stock market, but the middle class did much worse.
The typical U.S. household’s net worth – their assets minus their debts – plunged by 44 percent between 2007 and 2010. This ended a 15-year period of stability relative to wealthier households, pushing inequality to historic highs.
The vulnerability in middle America’s finances back then remains a vulnerability today: debt. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York was already reporting early signs of growing financial distress among credit card borrowers prior to the current contraction, and Wolff said that the ratio of debt to net worth in the middle class is currently higher than it is for other groups. This debt, when combined with a fall in investment portfolios and an expected decline in house prices, will push up wealth inequality, he said.
Another form of inequality – the disparity in incomes – widened after the last recession and Boston College economist Geoffrey Sanzenbacher worries that it will increase again. Between 2008 and 2018, the top 1 percent of U.S. families received nearly half of the increase in incomes for all U.S. families, adjusted for inflation. …Learn More
February 28, 2019
Depression Abates When Women Hit 60
Motherhood, career anxiety, menopause – women, throughout their lives, move from one psychological stressor to the next.
Well, ladies, there’s hope: your stress should start to ease around age 60.
With the #MeToo movement against workplace abuse of young adult women dominating the headlines, there’s a quieter movement of baby boomer women exploring what it means to get old. Book publishers are flocking to writers of self-actualization books like “Women Rowing North: Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age” and “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.”
Perhaps publishers sense a market for these books because women of all ages suffer depression at rates two to four times higher than men. But a study in the journal Maturitas finds that many women shed their depression as they move from their mid-40s into their 60s.
To pinpoint individuals’ psychological changes over time, this study analyzed the group of women who participated in a telephone survey from beginning to end, 1992 to 2012.
The women, who live Melbourne, Australia, were asked a battery of questions to determine whether they were depressed – questions about whether they felt optimistic or discontented, socially engaged or lonely, impatient or cheerful, clear thinking or confused.
They were also asked whether they suffered from bad moods, which can be a precursor to depression. The researchers found that the women’s moods improved significantly as they aged. …Learn More