Tag: disability

The Ability of Markets


This past week, New York Times reporter Ben Casselman wrote a powerful story with the provocative title “In a Tight Labor Market, a Disability May Not Be a Barrier.” The article praised the diversity and inclusion initiatives that are now deeply embedded in modern corporate culture. Casselman told the moving story of Kate Cosway, who obtained her master’s degree in chemistry and chemical engineering in 2014. Cosway is on the autism spectrum. Her difficulty with interviews meant her job quest had little traction until this past summer when she was taken on as an intern at Dell Technologies in the company’s audit department. She did well and earned a permanent paying position in the fall. After lauding Cosway’s rise, Casselman asks: How long will the present-day hiring party last if an economic downturn is brought about by President Donald Trump’s on-again-off-again trade war with China?

Cosway is no anomaly in today’s hot job market. Thousands of workers who were once thought marginalized and unemployable are now being pursued by employers with tempting offers: good benefits, flexible hours, and training on the job. Ex-cons, college students, retirees, and members of minority groups are all being lured into the labor market by employers faced with serious labor shortages.

Today’s labor market surge vindicates John Kennedy’s famous observation in his June 1963 address in Frankfort, Kentucky: “As they say on my own Cape Cod, a rising tide lifts all the boats.” Put otherwise, the best way to create job opportunities for any target group is to create job opportunities for everyone. That maxim stands in stark contrast with the popular condemnation of free markets as a form of “trickle-down economics”: critics argue that the lion’s share of any program of market liberalization, including tax reductions and forms of deregulation, goes first and foremost to the rich, with only a few crumbs left for everyone else.

Administrative Law in the Crosshairs


The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument last week in a critical if obscure administrative law case: Kisor v. Wilkie asked the simple question of whether the courts should be highly deferential to federal administrative officials in the interpretation of their own statutes. Rebuffing agencies—like the Department of Veterans Affairs, in this case—could reshape the world of modern administrative law. The specific question at issue in Kisor is how to determine the date at which a veteran becomes eligible for disability benefits. Few people seem interested in the particulars of the case, not even the nine Justices, but a clear understanding of them and other key cases is needed to orient the basic theoretical discussion. Ultimately, giving judicial deference is either unnecessary or mischievous. It is best to make agencies defend their legal position like any other party in the system.

In this case, James Kisor applied to the VA for a disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder. No one doubted that he had the condition. The dispute was over when it started. Kisor claimed an earlier date than the VA allowed, and he sought to introduce evidence from his file to support his contention. The VA disregarded his new evidence. On its view, the governing statutory provision requires that claims for disability benefits be reconsidered only if the VA gets “relevant official service documents” that pertain to his claim. Kisor thought that he should be able to introduce evidence already in the record when his initial claim date was determined. The VA refused to consider that new evidence from the record because it predated the “last denial” of Kisor’s claim. Kisor responded that this earlier evidence should be reviewed in any event so long as it has “any tendency” to tip the outcome in the case. Kisor wanted, therefore, a broader reading of the term “relevant” than the VA allowed, and he claimed that the Federal Rules of Evidence supported him because it used the same broad “any tendency” definition of “relevant” that he endorsed.

In ordinary litigation, Kisor’s argument would carry a lot of weight. But not here. Unfortunately, the Circuit Court for the Federal Circuit punted deciding the issue on the merits, saying in effect that it owed extreme deference to the federal administrator in the construction of his own statute. Eyebrows should raise because the VA is an interested party—but the Federal Circuit invoked two Supreme Court cases, decided over 50 years apart, Bowles v. Seminole Rock (1945) and Auer v. Robbins (1997), to bolster its decision. Both those decisions have come under spirited attack from the conservative side of the Court, because they are said to represent an abnegation of the judicial duty to decide all questions of law that come before a court. The liberal response has been equally emphatic, insisting that Congress wants agencies that use their greater expertise on these specialized issues to determine coherent public policy. So who’s right? To answer that question, it is important to see how judicial deference works in practice.

Bert Stratton joins City Journal associate editor Seth Barron to talk about Stratton’s experience as a member of one of the most despised but important professions: landlord.

Stratton is a musician and blogger, but he makes his living managing apartment units and retail space in a suburban neighborhood outside of his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He prefers to call himself a “landlord-musician.”

It’s Great Disability Rolls Are Finally Shrinking, But the System Still Needs Pro-Work Reform


Have Americans gotten way healthier over the past several years? Seems dubious. But the US economy sure has strengthened. And America’s hot job market seems to be finally draining a reservoir of hidden slack: disability rolls. The New York Times notes the number of Americans receiving Social Security disability benefits has declined to 8.63 million from a September 2014 peak of 8.96 million.

Now there might be other things going on as well, such as the big expansion of Medicaid and the Social Security Administration tightening the approval process for benefits. But as interesting as all these numbers are, more compelling is the story of Christian Borrero, told at the end of the Times piece. Born with cerebral palsy, Borrero until 2015 received disability benefits as he worked at a part-time job answering phones. The salary was low enough that he still qualified for benefits.

Then Borrero was offered a full-time receptionist job at a landscape supply and waste-to-energy company. And what happened next illustrates some big flaws with America’s disability system. Twice Borrero turned down the job, “terrified” he would lose his benefits. Plus he had never had a job with “real benefits and real hours.” Finally, however, Borrero accepted the job and then, subsequently, lost his disability benefits. So he took a second job to replace those lost benefits, although eventually his full-time employer gave him more responsibility and bumped up his pay to cover the shortfall.

The Desire to be Disabled and the Loss of Meaning


AcediaFor the life of me I cannot figure out why anyone would want to be disabled. I am among the accursed numbers of those unable to work, having been felled seven years ago after a nearly fifty-year fight with rheumatoid arthritis. (Thankfully, my law firm provided disability insurance, which keeps me off the government dole.) At the risk of singing my own praises, I have willingly submitted to being a guinea pig for a host of treatments, some of which have potentially deadly side effects (a duel at dawn with anyone who pities me). I did this because I needed not merely to feed my family, but because work, properly understood, offers a sense of purpose which keeps the Eternal Footman at bay. But the disease finally won the day. I am a lawyer by trade, and one little-known reality is that practicing law is highly demanding, not only mentally, but physically. I never really enjoyed my chosen occupation. Fighting for a living, especially trivial battles like petty arguments and personally insulting rhetoric, will tax the most patient of men. But the intellectual work was rewarding. I miss that.

These past few years, then, have not always been a joy. Yes, I have a wonderful life with my loving wife, devoted children (even though they call me “Old Guy”), and two fantastic granddaughters. But work is an essential need of man: Not only as a means of material production, but as a spiritual and psychological route towards acquiring virtue. Plus, while I don’t know whether there are statistics to back this up, from personal experience with others forced into early retirement, life expectancy drops when work comes to an end.

Why, then, are the Social Security Disability rolls growing at incomprehensible rates? We live in an extraordinarily safe world. Modern medicine does much more than keep us alive. It allows us to stay productive through illnesses that, just a few short years ago, would have quickly knocked us out of the game. As for the risks in life, my new car has eleven airbags and enough safety technology to ward offer nearly every danger. I’m safer in my car than nearly anywhere else. So what is it about work that has so many seeking an excuse to run away? Why would anyone want to be disabled?