Back in 2011, if Eugene LaPorte knew that the Social Security Disability Insurance program was going to be broke in five years, he probably wouldn't have cared. He needed the money and he was out of options. When he graduated from high school in Millinocket, Maine, in 1973, he went straight to work for the Great Northern Paper Company, the economic anchor in this small town in northern Maine. He became a supervisor and, just before the company went bankrupt in the early ‘90s, was earning nearly six figures. Said LaPorte: “Who needed a college education? I was living the dream.”
But a series of layoffs coupled with health challenges finally forced LaPorte to consider an option: going on disability. Given his long list of ailments — a heart attack, asthma, and diabetes — LaPorte filed for disability under the Social Security Disability Benefits program and within months of applying, he started receiving a regular check. Although his check isn't large — checks average $1,130 a month — it’s enough for him and his wife (who owns a small business in town) to get by on. It’s enough for him to ride his Harley to bike rallies around New England. And after two years, he became eligible for Medicare, which covers him now for the rest of his life.
In a microcosm, La Porte exemplifies an increasing number of people who have run out of options, and money, and are looking for something, anything, to keep body and soul together. As Andrew Houtenville, director of research for the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability said: “When you are faced with a job loss, what do you do?” John Dorrer, an economist at Maine’s Department of Labor, said LaPorte is just one of many applying for, and receiving, benefits under Social Security:
The Social Security disability program has become an economic option for many people. As a result of the economic downturn, a whole lot of unskilled males 50 and over were bounced out of the labor force.
LaPorte has lots of company. In 2000, just over five million former job holders were on disability. Today that number is 8.8 million, and that doesn't count another two million dependent children and spouses who also receive benefits.
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