Brain gets tough workout with disability story

Why would folks in the Sacramento region get federal disability benefits at a far higher rate than workers in other major areas in the state? Am I living in some kind of human disaster area? Is it catching?

A front page story in the Sacramento Bee yesterday said working-age adults in the four-county Sacramento region are 40 percent more likely to be on disability than workers elsewhere in California. About one Sacramento-area resident took disability for every 17 still on the job in 2012, the story said. Across California, the rate was one disabled resident for every 24 workers. No comparison was made between last year’s rate and those of previous years, so it’s uncertain whether this was a statistical glitch or a disturbing trend.

Having read that challenging my brain with puzzles might slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve been puzzling over this story because the pieces of explanation given for this disquieting disparity don’t add up to convincing picture. The story cites three reasons why the disability rolls are rising in California and contends the three factors have been felt more sharply in Sacramento than in the rest of the state. The fourth paragraph of the story says:

Many of the same factors driving up disability rolls across the state are playing out in a more pronounced way here: an aging workforce; a rough economy; and expanded regulations regarding who is eligible.

Baby boomers, who serve as a punching bag in so many stories these days, were singled out as prime contributors to Sacramento’s unfortunate No. 1 ranking:

Sacramento has a higher proportion of baby boomers than the statewide average, and the rise of the baby boomer generation is directly related to the rise in disability payments. The reason is basic: Older workers are more likely to sustain disabling injuries or illnesses.

If the Sacramento baby-boomer population is higher than the state average, I doubt it comes anywhere near explaining the 40 percent higher disability-recipient rate in this area. The story fails to give any breakdown on baby-boomer numbers. In checking 2010 state Department of Finance and census data, I found that the average age in Sacramento County was actually  lower than the state average – 34.8 compared with 35.2. The percentage of working age adults  locally – those from 18 to 65 —  is almost identical to the state figure.

Was the “rough economy” far more pronounced locally than statewide? The story gives no figures. A chart in the Bee last year shows a jobless rate locally only slighter higher compared with state averages since 2008.

Have expanded regulations been applied more liberally in the Sacramento area? The story says that judges in the Sacramento region approved awards in about 62 percent of cases heard this fiscal year, slightly higher than the U.S. average. Is the Sacramento approval rate way out of whack with other areas in the state? No comparisons are made.

The Bee gave this story a lot of play yesterday, and the 2012 disparity between Sacramento and the rest of the state is disturbing. What’s really driving it?  Are local agencies and officials gaming the system?

While my mind benefits from occasional brain challenges, I think Bee readers would benefit from more thorough analysis on this issue.  



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