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Social Security Updates Occupations List Used in Disability Evaluation Process

June 24, 2024
Source: Social Security Administration (SSA)

Social Security administers disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

While the agency’s disability decision process remains sound, it continually seeks improvements to ensure its disability programs remain current and to ease the burden on customers. In determining disability claims for adults, Social Security may have to evaluate whether a person can adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. To make this determination, the agency considers a person’s capacity to do work-related activities, as well as consider their age, education, and work experience.

When making a finding of “not disabled,” for the purpose of benefit eligibility the agency must support the finding with evidence that an individual can adjust to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. The agency uses the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) and its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles, as reliable sources of information about such work.

The agency has identified 114 DOT occupations with jobs that exist in very limited numbers, if at all, in each of the nine U.S. Census divisions of the country. Based on this finding, the agency will not use these occupations to support a “not disabled” finding at the last step in the evaluation process for disability determinations.

The agency also identified 13 DOT occupations where federal courts have questioned supporting evidence of a “not disabled” finding. The agency is implementing additional evidence requirements for these occupations.

“It makes sense to identify occupations that now exist in very limited numbers in the national economy,” said Martin O’Malley, Commissioner of Social Security. “By making this update, our decision makers will no longer cite these jobs when denying a disability application.”

On June 22, 2024, the agency published new public guidance and instructions about these changes. The agency anticipates that, as a result, it will only consider the most relevant occupations when determining if someone applying for disability benefits could perform other types of work.

In the longer term, Social Security continues to analyze data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Requirements Survey, which will inform future updates.

These changes add to a growing list of policy updates that Social Security is publishing to improve its disability programs. For example, the agency recently announced it will reduce barriers to access the SSI program by updating the definition of a public assistance household (See Social Security to Expand Access to SSI Program by Updating Definition of a Public Assistance Household). The agency also announced it will exclude the value of food from SSI benefit calculations (See Social Security to Remove Barriers to Accessing SSI Payments).

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