Opponents of health care reform are very attached to the concept of unintended consequences — they talk about it all the time. But opponents of health care reform also tend to be supporters of raising the legal retirement age from 65 to 67, or even 70 — and here unintended consequences are never mentioned. But of course that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be any:
The purpose of raising the retirement age, we’re told, is to
increase cat food salessave money and put Social Security on a path to long-term solvency. But the bean-counting geniuses Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson didn’t take one thing into account: it could actually cost more to the system if people go on disability in those later years because they’re unable to work. And this wasn’t the National Hippies Foundation who made this assessment, it was the Government Accountability Office.
The argument frequently made by people who support requiring 65-year-olds to work until they are 67 or 70 (and to push up the early retirement age as well) is that ‘Americans live longer now.’ And of course they mean this in an actuarial sense — but the statement is still misleading:
Oh, and they’re talking about raising the retirement age, because people live longer — except that the people who really depend on Social Security, those in the bottom half of the distribution, aren’t living much longer. So you’re going to tell janitors to work until they’re 70 because lawyers are living longer than ever.
A new study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that one type of disability — clinical depression — is up in the past year. The increase is attributed to the economy, which hardly surprises. Mental illness in general affects over 45 million Americans. That’s one in five Americans — 20% of the population:
Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest level of mental illness at 30 percent, while those aged 50 and older had the lowest, with 13.7 percent, said the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA.The rate, slightly higher than last year’s 19.5 percent figure, reflected increasing depression, especially among the unemployed, SAMHSA, part of the National Institutes of Health, said.
“Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed,” Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA’s administrator, said in a statement.
“The consequences for individuals, families and communities can be devastating. If left untreated mental illnesses can result in disability, substance abuse, suicides, lost productivity, and family discord.”
The 2009 mental health survey hints at the impact of record unemployment rates, which last year hit a 25-year high as struggling employers slashed jobs to cope with a weak economy.
For many, lost employment meant loss of health insurance, leaving many of the nation’s mentally ill unable to get treatment.
As some TMV readers may know, this is a very personal issue for me. For a little over a year now, I have been living on Social Security Disability. I worked for most of my adult life with undiagnosed clinical depression. It affected both my productivity and my ability to hold any job for more than a few years. This is a real, serious problem.
I do realize that, if you are by nature and/or by political or philosophical bent, not inclined toward high levels of sympathy for human suffering, studies like the one mentioned above will make you sneer about everything looking like a mentally ill hammer to a government-loving liberal (or something like that — I don’t claim to understand this particular psychology very well). But here is something to consider: In an economy where 15 million Americans are unemployed, and where millions more are underemployed or living under the realistic possibility of being unemployed in the near future, non-governmental sources of charity, relief, and support don’t work as well. If anyone actually needs me to explain the specifics of why this is so, I will be happy to do so in comments, but I am going to assume that most reasonably intelligent people understand why personal charitable donations go down in a bad economy, and why relief and aid organizations and groups such as food pantries, free or low-cost mental health clinics, and so on, tend to be among the first to experience both increased demand for their services, and straitened financial circumstances with which to fill that demand.
In an economy like this one, government is the only viable source of help.