Social Security Disability Program and the Jobless

Jobless are straining Social Security’s disability benefits program, By Michael A. Fletcher, September 14, 2010, Washington Post: “The number of former workers seeking Social Security disability benefits has spiked with the nation’s economic problems, heightening concern that the jobless are expanding the program beyond its intended purpose of aiding the disabled. Applications to the program soared by 21 percent, to 2.8 million, from 2008 to 2009, as the economy was seriously faltering. The growth is the sharpest in the 54-year history of the program. It threatens the program’s fiscal stability and adds to an administrative backlog that is slowing the flow of benefits to those who need them most. Moreover, about 8 million workers were receiving disability benefits in June, an increase of 12.6 percent since the recession began in 2007, according to Social Security Administration statistics…”

Poverty and Crime

Poverty rate paradox: Poverty rises, but FBI crime rate falls, By Patrik Jonsson, September 13, 2010, Christian Science Monitor: “The much-studied links between poverty and crime rates – which helped give rise to many Great Society programs – have not materialized so far in the Great Recession. Even with 15 percent of Americans now officially poor, both violent crime and property crime continued to drop in the United States in 2009, the FBI reported Monday. The housing crash’s backwash of foreclosures and high unemployment has pushed some in the middle class and the working poor to the brink of despair and insolvency. Yet crimes reports ranging from murder to carjackings, from graft to purse-snatching, all declined during the same period, forcing social scientists to reexamine long-held assumptions about the causes of crime and how society can best battle back…”

Homeless Families in Shelters

Number of families in shelters rises, By Michael Luo, September 11, 2010, New York Times: “For a few hours at the mall here this month, Nick Griffith, his wife, Lacey Lennon, and their two young children got to feel like a regular family again. Never mind that they were just killing time away from the homeless shelter where they are staying, or that they had to take two city buses to get to the shopping center because they pawned one car earlier this year and had another repossessed, or that the debit card Ms. Lennon inserted into the A.T.M. was courtesy of the state’s welfare program. They ate lunch at the food court, browsed for clothes and just strolled, blending in with everyone else out on a scorching hot summer day. ‘It’s exactly why we come here,’ Ms. Lennon said. ‘It reminds us of our old life.’ For millions who have lost jobs or faced eviction in the economic downturn, homelessness is perhaps the darkest fear of all. In the end, though, for all the devastation wrought by the recession, a vast majority of people who have faced the possibility have somehow managed to avoid it. Nevertheless, from 2007 through 2009, the number of families in homeless shelters – households with at least one adult and one minor child – leapt to 170,000 from 131,000, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development…”

Debit Card Tax Refunds

Debit card refunds for lower-income folks should work in Michigan, By Susan Tompor, September 12, 2010, Detroit Free Press: “The U.S. Treasury plans to test the delivery of tax refunds in plastic for lower-income individuals who do not have bank accounts, and Michigan seems to me like a no-brainer for a pilot program. ‘I think Michigan would provide fertile ground,’ said David Marzahl, president of the Center for Economic Progress, the nation’s largest tax-preparation provider for low-income families. The Chicago-based center leads the National Community Tax Coalition, a group of community-based tax and financial services programs that serve more than 1 million low-income families nationwide. Marzahl noted that communities in Michigan offer racial, ethnic and economic diversity. Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael S. Barr has a Michigan connection, too, having taught at the University of Michigan Law School. More important, consumers in metro Detroit — and other cities in the Midwest — have long been targeted by tax-preparation companies that pitch high-cost refund-anticipation loans to individuals who do not have bank accounts…”