by Max Brantley
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) suggested on Monday that population decline and drug abuse in poor areas could be the result of too many people on Social Security disability.
Speaking to the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday, Cotton warned that communities with high a percentage of residents on Social Security disability had reached a tipping point that was linked to population decline. But he said that communities which used fewer benefits were enjoying a population increase
“It’s hard to say what came first or caused the other, population decline or increased disability usage,” Cotton opined. “Or maybe economic stagnation caused both. Regardless, there seems to be at least at the county and regional level something like a disability tipping point.”
“When a county hits a certain level of disability usage, disability becomes a norm,” he continued. “It becomes an acceptable way of life and alternative source of income to a good paying full-time job as opposed to a last resort safety net program to deal with catastrophic injury and illness.”
And according to Cotton, that was just the beginning of the bad news for communities with above average disability claims.
“At a certain point when disability keeps climbing and become endemic, employers will struggle to find employees or begin or continue to move out of the area,” he said. “The population continues to fall and a downward spiral kicks in, driving once thriving communities into further decline.”
“Not only that, but once this spiral begins, communities could begin to suffer other social plagues as well, such as heroin or meth addiction and associated crime.”
Cotton revealed that he planned to introduce legislation that would single out non-permanent disability recipients and set a timeline for them to return to work.
Disabled people who are not ready to return to work would be forced to reapply for disability benefits, Cotton said.
Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it’s not really news that there’s a drug problem in the heartland.
But what’s causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior?
If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.
For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.
You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.