NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 23, 2008

At an age when most people are still working, rules at the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) are letting employees cash in, after they stop working.  With incentives like these, occupational disabilities at the LIRR have become a full-blown epidemic, says the New York Times.

Virtually every career employee -- as many as 97 percent in one recent year -- applies for and gets disability payments soon after retirement.  Since 2000, about a quarter of a billion dollars in federal disability money has gone to former LIRR employees, including about 2,000 who retired during that time, says the Times.

In recent years, LIRR's disability rate has been three to four times that of the average railroad, and is particularly striking when compared with the number of disabilities at popular transit authorities:

  • From 2001-2007, in disabilities resulting from arthritis and rheumatism, New York City's Metro-North had 32 cases, compared with 753 at LIRR.
  • For diseases affected the musculoskeletal system, Metro-North had 49 cases; LIRR had 850.
  • Regarding work-related injuries and illnesses: from 2005-2007, the LIRR had 2.91 cases per 200,000 working hours, compared with 2.98 for New Jersey Transit, 3.13 for Metro-North, 9.42 for PATH and 12.91 for Philadelphia's transit system.

LIRR's record also raises questions about why the Railroad Retirement Board approves nearly 100 percent of disability requests from all the nation's railroads.  Even though the Board is funded through taxes, Social Security had to contribute $3.6 billion last year to cover expenses.  And although changes in the railroad's contract have made it more difficult for many employees to retire early, it is still possible for them to receive a regular pension at age 55.

Furthermore, at end of 2007, 1,100 long-term employees were still working under the old provisions, ready to receive their pensions at a moment's notice, says the Times.

Source: Walt Bogdanich, "A Disability Epidemic Among a Railroad's Retirees," New York Times, September 21, 2008.

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