The LePage administration loves bragging about how many “able-bodied” people it has thrown off the welfare rolls by making them ineligible for food stamps and health insurance. And it should come as no surprise that when an economic strategy that cuts taxes but not poverty fails, it blames immigrants. They are easy scapegoats, especially if their skin is brown in a place like Maine that is so white.

The fact is, however, that denying people welfare doesn’t magically put them on a path toward self-reliance.

Often the push moves them from state and locally administered welfare to Social Security disability, and the people who get pushed are usually white, which makes them invisible in Maine. They are thrown from a frying pan that’s hot – but at least watched – into the fire, where they vanish.

Ten percent of people in Maine collect federal disability benefits, one of the highest rates in the country, up from 7 percent in 2011. The state is failing its vulnerable people in so many ways: Infant mortality rates, childhood poverty and drug addiction are off the charts. In addition, close to 40,000 men in the prime of their lives are sitting it out instead, debilitated by the pain of humiliation, poverty and failure because they can’t work.

Fifteen percent of Maine men ages 25 to 54 are out of the workforce completely – not even counted among the “unemployed” because the term implies employability. Once “disabled,” work is no longer an option. Use of disability benefits has risen more among 25- to 54-year-old men who are not in the labor force than any other group, Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist with the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in his 2016 book “Men Without Work.”

Debilitated and lonely, forsaken and abandoned, these men are really lost boys nobody is looking for, dying of shame and despair at our expense.

Manhood in America in the age of Donald Trump, Tom Brady and Jay-Z is challenging enough for the middle class in urban areas. For uneducated, unskilled men in communities dying of economic starvation, success is impossible to envision, let alone attain. Choices include running a meth lab, dealing heroin, collecting disability or all of the above. How can any demographic on disability benefits succeed?

The safety net intended to catch these men when they fall is strangling too many of them. The program as designed is pushing people in pain to be people forever disabled; that’s bad for society and should stop.

This is the year of the white man in the White House, and he needs to address the growing population of white men not working, collecting disability benefits while high on drugs and low on life. Blaming liberals and immigrants for their personal demise is no longer an option.

There is plenty of work to be done and not enough people chipping in. Here are three things we could do:

• Maine has a lot of land, adequate water and long growing seasons. We are spared from calamitous weather patterns and deadly pests. The Pine Tree State could have stately public farms that pay people who work there in shares as well as wages. Producing good food in fresh air using any set of muscles, big or small, would yield more positive results – physically, emotionally and financially – than a walk to the convenience store for beer and chips when the monthly disability check arrives. Work opportunities at public farms could encourage productivity by offering shares in farmland, or other proverbial carrots, in addition to teaching valuable skills. The food produced could be used to feed the growing numbers of hungry children and the elderly.

• We need to see these 25- to 54-year-old men who collect disability and hear why they are in pain. Research on the psychological impact and social cost of men with little choice other than becoming disabled is needed. There may be a wiser and cheaper alternative to sending a monthly check.

• The legal and medical establishment that enables the proliferation of a permanently disabled society should be held accountable. Doctors who prescribe opiates contributed to the present-day drug addiction crisis, and lawyers motivated and enriched by forever disabling others contribute to the disturbingly large number of people collecting disability benefits. It is incumbent upon them to direct a reasonable sum of money, time or talent to an alternative model.

Pain and mental illness – the single largest category of Maine’s disability recipients – are serious health conditions that legitimately cause disability. Worthlessness, poverty and despair likely contribute to pain and mental illness. It’s imperative the cycle be broken.

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: dillesquire