Setting Expectations for Claimant Ability to Work: Investigating the Occupational Requirements and Functional Capacity of Workers with Early Onset Health Conditions
When determining a claimant’s eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses whether his/her health condition (e.g., back/spine problems) sufficiently impairs his/her functional capacity (e.g., ability to lift/carry weight) so that the he/she is unable to meet the requirements (e.g., need to lift/carry 25 pounds) of his/her previous occupation and other possible occupations. Using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and Occupational Requirements Survey (ORS), we compare the occupational requirements of workers with and without a given health condition in order to understand what to expect from claimants with that health condition. Although sample sizes are limiting and ORS data collection is not yet complete, we find some evidence that workers’ occupational requirements accommodate their health conditions. This evidence suggests that claimants with these health conditions may be able to fulfill the requirements in these occupations. We do find some evidence of the opposite causality: Workers may experience health conditions later in life from occupational requirements that may have caused their health conditions. This evidence is a caution against using data without onset information to inform claimant-ability expectations. Overall, this report provides evidence that national surveys with occupation, health, and function questions have the potential to inform revisions to the SSA disability determination process by providing information on people with health conditions who are working and meeting the requirements of a variety of occupations.
- Evidence suggests that workers with certain health conditions have jobs that accommodate those conditions. For example, we find that the mean within occupation percent of workers with back or spine problems for whom climbing ramps or stairs is required is 20 percentage points. This is 1.5 percentage points less than for workers without back or spine problems, suggesting that claimants with back or spine problems may be able to work in such occupations.
- We find that fulfilling occupational requirements may lead to later-life health conditions. For instance, the mean within-occupation average maximum pounds required to lifted or carried is 20.9 pounds for workers with early onset back or spine problems. This is 5.6 percentage points less than for than for workers with late onset back or spine problems. This suggests that information on health condition onset is important in informing expectations about a claimant’s ability to fulfill occupational requirements.
- Population-based data on workers’ occupational requirements and their health conditions and related functional limitations (as found in the Survey of Income and Program Participation) when merged with Occupational Requirements Survey data has the potential to inform SSA’s disability determination process. Increasing the specificity of survey questions related to health condition and corresponding functional limitation onsets could potentially further improve the process.
Houtenville, Andrew J., and Deniz Ozabaci. 2019. “Setting Expectations for Claimant Ability to Work: Investigating the Occupational Requirements and Functional Capacity of Workers with Early Onset Health Conditions.” Ann Arbor, MI. University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center (MRDRC) Working Paper; MRDRC WP 2019-404. https://mrdrc.isr.umich.edu/publications/papers/pdf/wp404.pdf
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- UM19-09: Investigating the Functional Capacities, Occupational Requirements, and Vocational Characteristics of Workers with Early Onset Impairments
Paper IDWP 2019-404