A story in The Atlantic describes the problems of Grundy, Virginia, in the far southwest corner of the state. There, many of the residents had jobs in the coal industry, but now, with the decline in coal jobs, the area has few jobs and many rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits as their only income.
The county, according to an analysis based on 2011 numbers, has 20 percent of its residents receiving SSDI benefits. And the reason for this is complex, but not unexpected. Coal mining is a very difficult job. It involves lots of hard, manual labor, which in itself would extract a toll on the workers bodies. But it is also done underground, in the constant presence of coal dust and the roar of heavy machinery.
This wear and tear can eventually leave the workers in such pain that they may no longer be able to work. Years of poor health care also can combine with years of physical abuse to age them prematurely. In an area like Grundy, there is no other option.
The lack of other work means even a college-educated worker would have few, if any options. A 50-year-old ex-coal miner has no options. SSDI provides the safety net that prevents them from becoming entirely destitute.
The article notes few of those who have worked their entire lives in white-collar employment understand the toll manual labor takes on the body. Years of lifting heavy items can destroy a back, but may not cause easily verifiable damage.
These types of injuries make it easy to claim someone is faking an injury. But it unlikely that 20 percent of a counties population is faking. And in many parts of American, this combination of physically-damaging jobs, lack of healthcare and a depressed economy leave many workers with no options.
The Atlantic, “Life in the Sickest Town in America,” Olga Khazan, January 22, 2015