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“Most people still want to work but the (system) realizes …good luck finding a job when you’re 52 years old and can’t lift anything or stay on your feet for hours.”Kozma said the federal system places disability applicants in categories, a “grid system” based on age and physical condition and essentially draws a dividing line at age 50 – workers at or above that marker have a much better chance of qualifying for disability benefits than the younger age group.Northern Michigan is part of a national phenomenon that emerged two decades ago and especially during the Great Recession of 2008-10, when an abrupt decline in blue-collar jobs left certain workers – mostly in their 50s, suffering from chronic medical conditions – unemployed or underemployed for years at a time.

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Less well known is that an area consisting of 17 northern Michigan counties – mostly in the upper Lower Peninsula – qualifies as a separate strand of this Disability Belt, with economic distress nearly as Across this region, an area plagued by persistent unemployment and poverty, a surprising number of desperate workers have turned to Social Security disability benefits to earn a livelihood.

Many don’t expect to return to the job market – unless federal investigators throw them off disability rolls.

The center concluded that any significant reductions to the Medicaid program would force some of the disabled out of their homes and into institutional settings, such as nursing homes.

One broad category of disability recipients includes victims of accidents or debilitative diseases ranging from cancer to congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis, as well as developmental disabilities. The second ‒ and far more contested and controversial ‒ disabled population is dominated by those with “musculoskeletal” problems such as a failing back, knees or hips, and those with some form of mental illness.

The changing economy in northern Michigan ‒ as far as the tip of the Upper Peninsula, where disability rates are also high ‒ has dramatically impacted workers over several decades, said Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University economist. Rural hospitals in Michigan have told Bridge they could face financial peril or even closure if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or restricted.