Stuart Varney's campaign of economic misinformation continued today on Fox & Friends, when he reported on a rise in disability payments and, with the help of co-hosts Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy, strongly suggested that the rise in claims was due to unemployed people “gaming the system,” or committing “fraud.” Doocy introduced Varney by saying he “says the jobless situation probably is worsening things and is getting people to game the system. In the history of Social Security, the number of people who are filing for disability has never been higher and you smell fraud!” Varney said “it's possible citing the fact that disability claims have increased from 2008-2009. From Fox & Friends:
Varney attributes this increase, in part, to two things: “A terrible underlying economy,” and “mass unemployment.” Varney is right, this did contribute to the spike in disability claims, but not for the reasons he thinks. Here's how he characterizes the effect the economy had on claims:
VARNEY: It strikes me that a lot of people are desperate. They lose their job. They run out of unemployment benefits and then they -- look, I'm desperate. I've got no money. Some people are filing disability claims.
Varney reinforced the suggestion that rising claims are due to fraud by saying that people can file for disability for conditions that aren't provable, like depression or “muscular skeletal pain.” But Fox Business' "very clearly partisan" economist has once again misunderstood the actual effect of the economy. As the CBO noted:
When opportunities for employment are plentiful, some people who could qualify for DI benefits find working more attractive. Conversely, when employment opportunities are scarce, some of those people participate in the DI program instead. Indeed, applications to the program increased during and immediately following the recessions that occurred in the early 1990s, in 2001, and over the past few years, as did the number of people receiving DI benefits.
So rather than continue to work while disabled, in periods of low employment workers tend to take advantage of benefits for which they qualify. But it should come as no surprise that Varney, who has repeatedly attacked unemployment insurance, would take this news as evidence that the unemployed are defrauding the system.
Varney also says that the rise in disability claims is the fact that “the rules changed in the 1980s.” According to Varney, this led to the circumstances that allow people to defraud the program, such as claiming benefits for depression. In fact, what led to the increase in claims from 2008 to 2009 was legislation that President Bush signed into law in 2008. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 changed the ways that the requirements for being disabled could be interpreted. The growth in the program is the result of intentional changes to policy, making it easier to qualify.