More on disability benefits story:

But let’s take a look at some demographics here, because, as the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities point out in their response to the piece, demographics account for the changes in disability benefits enrollment, rather decisively. For starters, 20% of the US population is disabled, and an estimated 10% have ‘severe’ disabilities, like those that might make someone unable to work at all, or able to work only in a limited capacity. Given the overall distribution of people on disability benefits (less than 5% of the US population) in the US, it’s clear that there are some people who aren’t on the rolls who probably should be, rather than the other way around. That number is indeed shifting over time, but not for the reasons cited; it’s not that standards are relaxed and people are faking.

The boomer generation is aging, for one thing, which means more and more people are entering old age, and they’re starting to experience the disabling conditions that can come with aging for many older adults. Advances in medicine have also, of course, improved survival rates for older adults, which means more people are living after major medical events, and more people are requiring more advanced care. For younger disabled people, the same medical advances have improved lifespans and quality of life for people with conditions once deemed fatal at an early age; it’s a good thing that more people are living, and living well, not evidence of a bad thing.

And this is a country in the grip of an economic downturn. An analysis at the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes that, yes, the cost for Social Security Disability has in fact exploded, in correlation with the economy. Projections from the trustees’ reports also indicate that once the employment rate stabilizes, these rates should go back down. With a shrinking safety net, people are turning to whatever support they can find to survive.

Toxic stew

Maybe we should start calling it “Corporate Capitalism Stew”! Yum!

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Underground tanks that hold a stew of toxic, radioactive waste at the nation’s most contaminated nuclear site pose a possible risk of explosion, a nuclear safety board said in advance of confirmation hearings for the next leader of the Energy Department.

State and federal officials have long known that hydrogen gas could build up inside the tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, leading to an explosion that would release radioactive material. The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board recommended additional monitoring and ventilation of the tanks last fall, and federal officials were working to develop a plan to implement the recommendation.

The board expressed those concerns again Monday to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and had sought the board’s perspective about cleanup at Hanford.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. It spends billions of dollars to clean up the 586-square-mile site neighboring the Columbia River, the southern border between Washington and Oregon and the Pacific Northwest’s largest waterway.
Federal officials have said six underground tanks at the site are leaking into the soil, threatening the groundwater, and technical problems have delayed construction of a plant to treat the waste for long-term safe disposal.

Don’t cut Social Security

Expand it!

Nowadays, whenever Social Security comes up in policy debates around Washington, the discussion often focuses on how best to cut benefits in order to shore up the program’s finances.

Time for an expansion?

But a big new report (pdf) from the New America Foundation suggests that the conventional wisdom is exactly backward. Congress should be looking at ways to expand Social Security, not shrink it — particularly at a time when traditional corporate pensions are disappearing, and 401(k)s have proved fairly risky.

The big suggestion in this report is to add a brand new benefit to Social Security, called Part B, which would provide a flat $11,699 per year to all retired workers. This would come on top of the regular Social Security, which would also be protected from any further cuts.

The net effect is that the new Social Security program would replace a far bigger chunk of a worker’s lifetime earnings than the current program does.

The days of wine and roses

A recent study found that couples who drink the same amount of alcohol are less likely to divorce, while marriages where the wife drank more than the husband were much more likely to end in divorce:

They found that divorce was generally more common in couples with high rates of alcohol consumption, but that the highest divorce rates were found in couples where only the woman was a heavy drinker. Among couples where the wife reported being a heavy drinker (a measure that including admission of an indication of “hazardous drinking”) and the husband a light drinker, the divorce rate was 26.8%; when the positions were switched and the husband was the heavy drinker, the divorce rate was 13.1%.

In couples where both members were heavy drinkers, the divorce rate was 17.2%.

Norwegian Institute of Public Health researcher Fartein Ask Torvik, the lead author of the study, speculated that drinking in women upended marriages for a couple of reasons. One reason, he noted in a statement, is that women seem to be affected more strongly by alcohol than men are — so their drinking could impair them, and add risk in a marriage, more than a man’s heavy drinking might. The team also wrote that drinking “may be judged as incompatible with female roles,” and thus a particular threat to marital stability.

Tax time

I’ve often wondered (and said as much to the nice people from the IRS who keep calling me) why the hell they can’t simply file it themselves instead of putting us through this every year:

IN 2010 a panel created by the White House estimated that American taxpayers spend 7.6 billion hours and some $140 billion a year keeping the IRS off their backs. According to the Washington Post over 80% of taxpayers use software or pay someone to file their taxes. The national taxpayer advocate, a sort-of in-house IRS watchdog, once said, “If tax compliance were an industry, it would be one of the largest in the United States.” But of course, it is an industry.

It is an industry made up of accountants and companies like H&R Block and Intuit, which makes the TurboTax software used by many Americans. And it is an industry that, according to ProPublica, has worked hard to keep the IRS from preparing your tax returns for you for free. Intuit, for example, has spent millions lobbying the federal government, opposing bills that would allow the IRS to send you pre-filled-in returns (the agency already has most of your relevant information) and supporting bills that would ban the practice.

A large number of Americans might cringe at the idea of allowing the IRS to prepare their tax returns. The agency would likely err on the side of higher taxes, right? But such a system is already in place in many European countries (where the tax codes are admittedly simpler) and there are few complaints. The system would work something like this: the IRS would use the information it already has to fill in a standard return (a rather effortless process for the government), which would then be sent to you to accept, edit or reject and replace with a new return if you think you can do better.
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