The Americans With Disabilities Act, passed with bipartisan support in 1990 at the urging of then-President George H.W. Bush, enshrines the notion that every American can and should hold a job regardless of physical or mental limitations.
Under the ADA, employers who refuse to hire or promote the disabled may be liable for money damages in federal court.
Social Security Disability Insurance, however, pays people who can show that they are too mentally or physically impaired to remain in the labor force. In short, for many workers, SSDI creates a quasi-right not to work.
This paradox is getting expensive. SSDI spending has doubled as a percentage of gross domestic product in the last 25 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The program paid $128.9 billion to 8.3 million beneficiaries in fiscal 2011, about one-fifth of all Social Security spending. The average monthly benefit is $1,100, slightly less than the average Social Security retirement check, but after two years on SSDI, beneficiaries also get Medicare. Indeed, SSDI added $80 billion to the cost of Medicare in fiscal 2011.