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How Does Social Security Know What Jobs I Am Capable of Performing?

Posted by on in Social Security Disability

b2ap3_thumbnail_Social-Security-disability-claim-Chicago.jpgOne of the factors that Social Security officials consider in assessing a claim for disability benefits is the type and number of jobs an applicant might be able to perform despite his or her impairments. Social Security generally relies upon the opinions of “vocational experts” to provide this information. An administrative law judge (ALJ) will pose a series of “hypotheticals” to the vocational expert, who in turn is supposed to offer a realistic assessment of the applicant's job prospects.

Judge Rebukes Social Security Expert for Making Up Job Figures

Unfortunately, this system has a number of flaws. First, vocational experts are supposed to rely on a listing of occupational information last revised in 1991—a time before most people even had access to the Internet. Vocational experts also rely on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which offers more recent information on wages and productivity. Yet what happens when a vocational expert does not cite any source for his or her information? A federal magistrate in Illinois recently confronted this exact situation.

In this case, the magistrate held that a Social Security disability applicant's claim was improperly handled and she was, at a minimum, entitled to a new hearing.

The applicant suffered from a number of impairments, including fibromyalgia and depression. At a formal hearing, a vocational expert testified that, based on the ALJ's hypotheticals, there were probably sufficient jobs as an “office helper” that the applicant could still perform in spite of her disabilities. The vocational expert offered estimates on the number of office helper jobs based on taking reductions from the official figures published by the BLS.

But as the magistrate explained, the vocational expert never offered any exact methodology for his figures. The applicant's disability attorney made several requests to look at the vocational expert's backup data and notes. The expert refused to provide this information and the ALJ “was not receptive to these requests,” according to the magistrate.

In fact, the magistrate concluded, the vocational expert's numbers were simply “conjured out of whole cloth.” The expert admitted that his calculation of job figures was “subjective” and based entirely on his own purported “knowledge of the job market.” The magistrate said that was not good enough: She ordered the vocational expert to disclose his notes and other data so that the ALJ could reconsider the applicant's claim.

Are You Having Trouble Dealing With Social Security?

It is not surprising that Social Security officials would take such a cavalier attitude towards evidence. In the rush to deny legitimate disability claims, ALJs are infamous for accepting any testimony that supports their predetermined conclusion. But that is not how the law is supposed to work. You do not have to face a hostile Social Security Administration by yourself. Speak to an experienced Chicago disability benefits lawyer. Contact Pearson Disability Law, LLC, if you need help right away.


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