Tag Archives: Stephen C. Goss

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Actuary Man!

SuperheroDamian Paletta and Josh Zumbrun, journalists covering economic policy for The Wall Street Journal, published Has Social Security Disability Enrollment Hit Plateau?

The title is a question.

A graph in the article answers the question.

Yes.  Disability enrollment has plateaued.

Smiling senior man holding a big black arrow pointing down isola

Mr. Paletta and Zumbrun wonder aloud if “the program has actually peaked and [if it] will ever recede.” 

But … Mr. Paletta and Mr. Zumbrun are mere mortals, they are not … Actuary Man!   Superhero

Actuary Man, the mild-mannered Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary for the Social Security Administration whose superpower is a mathematically based Nostradamus-like ability to foretell the future, has predicted, based on demographic and stochastic modeling, exactly this plateau of the numbers of people enrolled in the disability programs.

On March 13, 2014, Mr. Goss testified before Congress.  His testimony was replete with charts and graphs explaining the demographic swell that is and was the baby boom and how it Two young people under an umbrella bringing a teddy bear and floaffects claims on Social Security’s disability and retirement programs and Medicare costs.

Mr. Goss also explained how the drop in the birth rate following the baby boom created higher costs for these programs relative to taxable income, but that the circumstance will stabilize as the baby boomers … um … no longer need these supports.

Numbers, numbers everywhere, but not a whit to think …

I read an article entitled SSA:  Disability Recipients Soar, Funding Nearly Depleted Under Obama bigstock-Dg-Obamaclt----8125094published on Newsmax.

Basically the article said:

“I say ‘Obama!’  You say, ‘freak out!'”

Obama!  Freak out!
Obama!  Freak out!

The article offered nothing else.   Seriously.   Nothing else.

Oh … there were numbers … which give the illusion of substance, but the numbers were untethered to sources that could be fact-checked, untethered to citations that could be looked up, untethered to … reality.  bigstock-Freak-Out-Sign-43721791

I asked a person with a background in statistics to see if he could make heads or tails out of it.   After reading it over, he said it made no sense, “but it is very anxiety-producing.”

Mission accomplished.    Obama!   Freak out!

The structure of the argument is:

1)   there are more people on disability now than when President Obama took office, and
2)   the Social Security trust fund is running at a deficit, and
3)   that’s Mr. Obama’s fault.

The article made no claim that the Obama Administration or Social Security have made any policy or rules changes that have caused the increase in the numbers of people on disability.   The article just … left it there.   Case closed.

bigstock-Man-with-living-liquid-mind-32070152“Your Honor, the numbers of people on disability have increased.   And I don’t like it.  And … … I rest my case.”


That argument is the nutritional equivalent of marshmallows for dinner.

Math geeks celebrate Pi Day every March 14th.   Get it?  3.14 … the first three numbers of pi … the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter?   It’s a big day for math, and if you do nothing else to commemorate it, make sure to  watch Theresa Miller reciting the first six hundred and fifty digits of pi while simultaneously hula hooping and solving a Rubik’s Cube!

Did you catch that?    six-hundred and fifty digits of pi, hula hooping, and solving a Rubik’s Cube … all at the same time.

But, I digress.

In 2013, the House Ways and Means Committee celebrated Pi Day by taking testimony from Stephen C. Goss, Social Security’s Chief Math Geek (Actuary) on exactly the issues addressed in Disability Recipients Soar.  

Mr. Goss testified that there are “drivers” of the increases in the costs and numbers of recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

These drivers are:

1)  a 41% increase in the total population at ages 20 through 64 between the years of 1980 and 2010;

2) the demographic changing age distribution which is due to the drop in the birth rate following the baby boom years;

3) increased numbers of women who are “insured” to receive disability benefits due to the large numbers of them who came into the workplace and stayed there – instead of working in the home where they were not paying Social Security payroll taxes, and not becoming “insured;”

4) a 42% increase in the prevalence of disability in people “insured” to receive disability benefits since 1980 due to the nation’s aging population now reaching its ‘disability-prone’ years.   

These are tedious factors.   I know.   I’m sorry.   This is why you don’t invite actuaries to your bigstock-Accountant-With-Abacus-37671250angry mob.   And … also, sorry to disappoint, but this is not Mr. Obama’s doing.    It’s not rampant fraud.    It’s not abuse.    It’s not lax judges.   It just is … and it’s going to be this way for a bit … and then it’s going to level out as the anomaly that is and was the baby boom … dissipates.

Everybody relax … and consider memorizing pi in 10-digit chunks so that you can recite it, hula hoop and solve a Rubik’s Cube for your friends next March 14th to be known forever as one of the coolest people on Planet Earth.