Washington Post Series Comes Under Fire

Social Security Disability Benefits claim form, a calculator, and a hand holding a pen.

by Andy Jones
April 24, 2017

A recent Washington Post article, focusing on recipients of Social Security disability benefits in rural communities, is receiving extensive criticism from disability rights advocates.
On March 30, the Washington Post ran an article, titled "Disabled, or Just Desperate?” as part of its Disabled in America series, which seeks to explore how “disability is shaping the culture, economy and politics of these small communities.”

Among other assertions in the article is the claim that as many as “one-third of working age” adults are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, even though only one county in West Virginia even approaches that threshold and the national average is about 9.1 percent.

On April 21, the National Disability Rights Network and 30 other disability rights groups, under the umbrella of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, signed onto a letter, criticizing the article for misleading readers about the prevalence of SSDI recipients in rural communities.

The letter issued includes four suggested corrections and numerous facts, to counter the perception that people are increasingly turning to SSDI voluntarily, or that there are differing trends in the program within urban and rural communities.

The letter underscores the strict criteria for the SSDI program and points to demographic changes for long-term increase in recipients, which nonetheless has slowed considerably the past few years.

“Responsible reporting not only highlights powerful stories…but also provides context and facts for readers to understand how economic and social forces shape individual struggles, and to separate symptoms such as deep poverty and failing health from root causes,” the letter states. “As the Washington Post continues its series, we urge the Post to inform its readers of important facts about our Social Security system, including disability insurance, and to explore systemic solutions to reducing poverty in rural areas including for people with disabilities.”

The full letter can be read here [PDF].

Another CCD Letter concerning the series, sent to the Washington Post on April 12, can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington is the protection and advocacy system in Washington state and a member of the National Disability Rights Network.