All In   |  April 05, 2013

Deconstructing the jobs numbers

March’s disappointing jobs numbers gives Chris Hayes and his panel an opportunity to break down a conservative argument that has gone mainstream.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> all right, so if you clicked on the drudge report today, this is what you would say. in response to the jobs numbers by the bureau of labor statistics . numbers were disappointing. american employers added 88,000 jobs in march. less than half of what was expected. we should take that with a grain of salt. these numbers are preliminary and curse by rhode islancursory. jobs in january were revised. in february, revised from 236,000 to 268. but the drudge report focuses on the 90 million out of work force for a couple of reasons. one, unemployment rate last month went down dropping from 7.7 to 7.6%. we know the drudge report won't lead with that as top line number. and two, you probably haven't encountered this yet. but on the right wing there is a growing course that identifies work force participation and dropping out of the work force as the great silent surge of the president barack obama . to these folks, basically what obama's america looks like is that under the cover of existing programs, people have been moving from the work force into the social safety net in the form of social security insurance and social security disability insurance .

>> just over the last three months, there have been more people going on disability than actually find willing jobs in this country?

>> yeah. i don't think this is what american voters had in mind when they voted for change in 2008 .

>> the administration made dependency a watch word ofity administration. and therefore, they have reduced the standard for people --

>> so it's easier --

>> oh, it is much easier.

>> a lot of men, 25, 26 years old, sitting on the porch all day long because every two weeks they get a crazy check and they are on disability.

>> baltimore sun on tuesday, general goldburg wrote as the nature of the economy programs, can disprograms are sometimes taking the place of welfare.

>> the reason the drudge report went with its headline jumped the species barrier into the mainstream area. very highly respected, quoting from the planet money piece, disability has been a defacto welfare program for people without a lot of education or job skills. but it wasn't supposed to serve this purpose. it is not a retraining program designed to get people back on their feet. that piece sparked huge controversy as we enter budgets and washington contemplates so-called entitlement reformt, stakes are very high. so high that eight commissioners of the social security administration wrote a detailed letter to npr to express concerns with the report stating quote as former commissioners of the age sin we could not sit on the side lines and witness this perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from millions of people with severe disabilities. drastic consequences for some of america's most vulnerable people. and this is exactly what drudge report readers want. joining me from newton, massachusetts, is social security commissioner 3under presidents bush and obama. i should say, we invited reporter hannah walt and producer alex bloomberg from planet money to join us tonight. they were unavailable an but have expressed interest in coming on in the future. michael, i will begin with you. why did you decide to write this letter?

>> we decided to write this letter because the factual premise of the npr article is just not true. they use loaded terms like skyrocketi skyrocketing. basically told the american people there is some unexpected sudden change in disability policy.

>> and it is not true. you read the trustees reports for the last 20 years, we have been saying since 1994 that there's going to be a solve ency issue in the disability trust fund in 2016 . and that exactly what is going to happen. so it is a little bit like saying daylight is skyrocketing in april. it is not skyrocketing. it is changing because of things that we understand. and the same thing is true in disability.

>> but there are, when you go through, when you listen to the piece and read the article, there are a bunch of eye-popping statistics about how much it expanded. has it tripled cents 1980 . in terms of the amount of people on disability. there are more people on it now. there is also statistics about the degree to which people, once they go on to disability, can get back into the labor force . that's another concern. and then the third thing that i found persuasive about the piece or at least not persuasive but provocative was the idea that the people, the diagnoses that are expanding in disability are those that seem the most nebulous about things like chronic pain . than people don't have chronic pain . chronic pain or psychological conditions as opposed to broken leges from factory incident, et cetera . maybe you can respond to those. actually rb we becka. sorry.

>> sorry, commissioner. i think if we have a conversation about the social security disability programs, i think it is really important to start with facts.

>> i hate those, but continue.

>> i apologize because i'm about to spew a lot of them pz go to town.

>> you start with the fact these are vital programs with people with significant disabilities. they a they subjects of facts. here of the facts. . is built stand the disability standard is t the disability standards in the united states are the strictest in the world. 60% or more of people who apply for these benefits are denied. the catch-all thoughts are misplaced and not supported by facts. many of those looking for benefits have severe diseases, cancer. one in five people have a disability. one in ten has severe disability. we are talking about a subset of people in this country with disabilities because the program, by virtue of a strict standard, is for people with most severe disabilities.

>> is that persuasive to you?

>> yes. i would say a couple of of things. one in terms of the demographic argument. and the bureau of economic defense find that the demographics are aging in population. for women it is only 4%. there is a substantial amount not demographically driven. a senate investigation found adds much as 25% of participation could be waste. we don't know the exact number but to say that -- one thing, the stat story provision or criteria of what makes someone eligible and then the actual enforcement and application. just because the letter of the law says something doesn't mean there are people who are certified to being disabled who aren't.

>> so the question is, what is driving the expanse people disability and one big question, as pop lakes ages, we expect more people to file for disability because people who are older are more likely and the question is, what percentage of this big change we're seeing is driven by that?

>> okay. so i can see there are a couple of economists out there. i have a suspicion as to whose payroll they're on. but you just have to go to the trustee's report. we covered this. every single year. how much of the change is due to what? and you can go back for 20 years. it has hardly changed at all. it is exactly as it was predicted the last time congress legislated in this area in 1994 . and it is almost -- most of it is simply the baby boomers going through their disability prone years. just like we are getting a lot more retirement applications. surprise, surprise. baby boomers are getting older. the exact same thing with disability. you get people a lot sicker at 55 than at 25. so we get a lot more disability applications.

>> do you believe that there is no waste in the system? what percentage of applications are mistakes or waste or fraud or abuse? what percentage.

>> look, you can't have $150 billion program whereat the end of the day , a lot of cases require judgment. mental disabilities , pain, you know, you can't run a blood test . you can't run a genetic test . there is some degree of fraud in the program. absolutely. no one -- i mean, senate committee tried for five years to try to show that there was massive fraud and they couldn't do it. and they ended up distorting our own internal quality statistics. on, you know, the quality of the paperwork. instead of being able to show that there was broad fraud. it is under 1% of the cases and no one's ever been able to show that it is anything different.

>> rebecca, you work on the front lines with folks trying to get disability. i would like it hear what your experience has been about how much of that is out there?

>> i think that's another one of the central misconception says that either it is incredibly easy to get benefit or that you can scam the system. i represent people who have significant disabilities who have been denied despite significant disabilities purely because they didn't have enough medical efd because one of their doctors didn't submit records or because a hospital they had been to didn't submit records. when i help and develop the record by getting evidence of all of the impairments they have, that's the thing that can make a real difference in someone's case. but i can tell you, this is a system that is incredibly hard it scam.

>> over time , what is interesting, applicationes have gone up quite a bit. but the actual