Social Security Uses Outdated Labor Data to Deny SSDI Claims

It is a nightmare scenario for so many working age people: You are diagnosed with an illness or suffer an injury so debilitating that you are no longer able to do your job. Suddenly, in addition to concerns about your health, you are unable to support yourself and your family, and face the likelihood of real financial hardship.

Without the security of a steady income – and with medical experts saying that you will never be able to hold a full-time job again – your options are limited. These are precisely the circumstances that Social Security Disability Insurance was designed to address, but thanks to outdated labor market data, the majority of Americans who might otherwise qualify for these benefits are seeing their claims denied.

A recent article in the Washington Post highlighted the challenges disabled Americans face in having their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims approved. In one example, Robert Heard, a 47-year-old electrician who suffers from halting speech, an enlarged heart, and violent tremors thanks to two strokes, spent four years jumping through legal hoops and administrative red tape only to have his disability benefits denied because a vocational expert hired by the Social Security Administration insisted that Heard was capable of performing three specific jobs. Those jobs: nut sorter, dowel inspector, and egg processor, are almost nonexistent in the modern-day United States. The judge who heard the case agreed with the vocational expert:

But while the judge agreed that Heard had multiple, severe impairments, he denied him benefits, writing that he had “job opportunities” in three occupations that are nearly obsolete and agreeing with the expert’s dubious claim that 130,000 positions were still available sorting nuts, inspecting dowels and processing eggs.

According to the article, denials like Heard’s are not uncommon — in fact, they are the norm. This is, in large part, due to the Social Security Administration’s use of an outdated publication known as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, which was first published in 1938. Of the nearly 13,000 job descriptions listed, the majority were last updated in 1977.

The publication was originally compiled by the Department of Labor, but that department stopped using it in the early 1990s when the U.S. economy shifted away from blue-collar manufacturing jobs toward information services. And yet, in the face of all logic, the Social Security Administration continues to rely on this outdated data when reviewing claims in the final stage of the claims process.

The government, using strict vocational rules, assesses someone’s capacity to work and if jobs exist “in significant numbers” that they could still do. The dictionary remains the backbone of a $200 billion disability system that provides benefits to 15 million people.

It lists 137 unskilled, sedentary jobs — jobs that most closely match the skills and limitations of those who apply for disability benefits. But in reality, most of these occupations were offshored, outsourced, and shifted to skilled work decades ago. Many have disappeared altogether.

While it is incumbent upon the federal government to ensure every person who receives SSDI benefits is actually unable to work due to a physical or mental impairment, the current process causes undue stress and hardship for those individuals whose illness or injury really has left them incapable of working.

Current labor data exists – Social Security just opts not to use it

Perhaps most appalling about this situation is that each year thousands of disabled Americans suffer from financial hardship and outright poverty because they are denied Social Security Disability benefits based on this data — even though more current data exists.

According to the Washington Post, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics has built an interactive system for Social Security that uses “a national sample of 60,000 employers and 440 occupations covering 95% of the economy.” The Social Security Administration chooses not to use this new system, preferring to rely on the outdated information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Added to that, since the 1990s, Social Security officials have been discussing how to “revise the list of occupations to reflect jobs that actually exist in the modern economy.”

For the last 14 years, the agency has promised courts, claimants, government watchdogs and Congress that a new, state-of-the-art system representing the characteristics of modern work would soon be available to improve the quality of its two million disability decisions per year.

In the meantime, people continue to suffer. Workers who have been left permanently disabled due to illness or injury and whose doctors and independent medical experts verify are unable to work, are left with no way to support themselves or their families. If you or your loved one is in this situation, it is crucial that you speak with an experienced York Social Security Disability lawyer. Because in case it is not already clear: Obtaining approval for Social Security Disability Insurance is an uphill battle that is best faced with a knowledgeable and experienced SSDI lawyer by your side.

Why do I need an SSDI lawyer?

While it may seem as though applying for Social Security Disability Insurance would be – or should be – a fairly straightforward process, that is not the case. As an applicant, you must provide evidence that your disability has prevented, or will prevent, you from working for at least a year. The entire process can last several years, especially when factoring in appeals.

The York Social Security Disability lawyers at KBG Injury Law have in-depth knowledge of the SSDI application and appeals process and extensive experience navigating it on behalf of clients. We understand the mental and emotional toll this process can take on applicants – and how this stress can impact your physical health. We answer all of your questions as we walk you through the process, and we handle your claim as thoroughly as possible.

If you or a loved one are considering applying for Social Security Disability – or if you have already started the process but are facing denials and the appeals process – we can help. From our offices in York, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Gettysburg, and Hanover, we fight on behalf of injury victims throughout South Central PA. Call us today or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of our SSDI lawyers.