Why Does the Social Security Administration Use 45-Year-Old Labor Market Data?

Robert Heard had made it through multiple appeals and denials for disability benefits. He was before a judge who would make the final decision. He had two strokes which led to tremors, speech difficulties, and heart problems.

A vocational expert was hired to tell the judge if Heard was capable of working in any capacity. To his surprise, the expert said he could sort nuts, work as a dowel inspector, or as an egg processor. These jobs are virtually nonexistent in the U.S. today. The judge agreed that Heard could find work in these fields.

The jobs are detailed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, a comprehensive reference first published in 1938. Most of the 12,700 entries were last updated in 1977. The index’s original creator, the Department of Labor, stopped producing it in 1991 as a result of the economy’s transition from blue-collar manufacturing to information and services.

It covers 137 sedentary, unskilled jobs that most closely match the abilities and limitations of those applying for disability benefits. In actuality, though, the majority of these jobs were offshored, outsourced, and switched to skilled labor decades ago. Many have disappeared completely.

The Social Security Administration has spent at least $250 million in the last decade creating an updated version of the publication. However, they aren’t using it. This leaves them reliant on labor data from over 40 years ago, which can mean many people are found ineligible for benefits.

The disability benefits system in the United States needs reform. Benefits should be expanded, and the application procedure should be streamlined. Additionally, the Social Security Administration should use an updated version of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Many people pass away while they wait for these benefits, which are essential to their survival.


Konish, Lorie. “As Social Security Disability Application Wait Times Hit Record High, Experts Say It’s a Sign the Agency Needs More Funding.” CNBC, CNBC, 16 Sept. 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/amp/2022/09/16/long-social-security-service-waits-signal-need-for-more-funds.html.

Rein, Lisa. “Social Security Denies Disability Benefits Based on List with Jobs from 1977.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Dec. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/12/27/social-security-job-titles-disabled-applicants-obsolete/.

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