Social Security uses obsolete job titles to deny benefits to disabled applicants – The Washington Post

by | Dec 27, 2022 | Jobs

Comment on this storyCommentGift ArticleHe had made it through four years of denials and appeals, and Robert Heard was finally before a Social Security judge who would decide whether he qualified for disability benefits. Two debilitating strokes had left the 47-year-old electrician with halting speech, an enlarged heart and violent tremors.There was just one final step: A vocational expert hired by the Social Security Administration had to tell the judge if there was any work Heard could still do despite his condition. Heard was stunned as the expert canvassed his computer and announced his findings: He could find work as a nut sorter, a dowel inspector or an egg processor — jobs that virtually no longer exist in the United States.“Whatever it is that does those things, machines do it now,” said Heard, who lives on food stamps and a small stipend from his parents in a subsidized apartment in Tullahoma, Tenn. “Honestly, if they could see my shaking, they would see I couldn’t sort any nuts. I’d spill them all over the floor.”How a Social Security program piled huge fines on the poor and disabledHe was still hopeful the administrative law judge hearing his claim for $1,300 to $1,700 per month in benefits had understood his limitations.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.Every year, thousands of claimants like Heard find themselves blocked at this crucial last step in the arduous process of applying for disability benefits, thanks to labor market data that was last updated 45 years ago.AdvertisementThe jobs are spelled out in an exhaustive publication known as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. The vast majority of the 12,700 entries were last updated in 1977. The Department of Labor, which originally compiled the index, abandoned it 31 years ago in a sign of the economy’s shift from blue-collar manufacturing to information and services.Social Security, though, still relies on it at the final stage when a claim is reviewed. The government, using strict vocational rules, assesses someone’s capacity to work and if jobs exist “in significant numbers” that they …

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