US social security will no longer deny disability claims based on ability to work outdated jobs

<span>A pneumatic tube operator, an obsolete occupation that the government argued people applying for benefits can do.</span><span>Photograph: Walter Nurnberg/SSPL/Getty Images</span>
A pneumatic tube operator, an obsolete occupation that the government argued people applying for benefits can do.Photograph: Walter Nurnberg/SSPL/Getty Images

The US’s social security administration is no longer considering a number of outdated jobs as possible work opportunities to deny those applying for disability benefits.

Social security disability benefits are determined with a claimant’s medical records and ability to work in mind. If unable to perform their past job, the administration looks at the person’s age, education and work experience to see if they can do other kinds of work.

The administration’s list of unskilled jobs that people can allegedly perform with disabilities – some of which include pneumatic tube operator, microfilm processor, and nut sorter – has not been updated since 1991. So it lists occupations that are obsolete but which the government argues can be performed by people applying for disability while denying them benefits.

These jobs come from the so-called Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), a publication developed in 1938 by the US government’s labor department. The department used the DOT to define tens of thousands of different types of work but abandoned volume more than thirty years ago to adopt a new system.

However, “the DOT is still used in social security disability adjudications,” according to the labor department.

A 2022 Washington Post investigation found that the DOT-informed list blocked claims from thousands of people hoping to receive benefits for their disabilities.

But the administration is developing a new method to make disability eligibility determinations based on the “Occupational Information System” (OIS).

The administration says the OIS will provide updated occupational information by “broadly describ[ing] the requirements of occupations in the national economy; and the ranges in which workers within occupations carry out critical tasks associated with their critical job functions”.

The OIS has been in development for several fiscal years, costing approximately $239m on pre-production testing and data collection between the fiscal years of 2012 and 2022. But it has yet to be implemented.