Vocational Factors in the Social Security Disability Determination Process: A Literature Review
At the request of the Social Security Administration (SSA), Mathematica Policy Research conducted a literature review to inform policy discussion about how the disability determination process for the Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs incorporates consideration of the vocational factors—that is, age, education, and work experience. Specifically, we sought to identify and evaluate existing literature, reports, and studies that could directly support evidence-based conclusions about the following research question: to what extent do age, education, and work experience affect a person’s ability to perform work he or she has not performed before, independent of all other factors, such as health, impairments and limitations, motivation, or general labor market conditions? This research question, developed in consultation with SSA, is narrow in scope and reflects both statutory language about the vocational factors and how SSA currently incorporates them into the disability determination process.
Our principal finding is that no rigorous evidence directly supports how the disability determination process currently uses vocational factors or how the disability determination process could change their future use. Although we found extensive documentation of relationships between the vocational factors and the extent to which people actually work or perform work-related activities, the documentation does not distinguish between the effects of the vocational factors on the ability to perform new work and the many other potential causes of the observed relationships. We identified only two articles that contained information tangentially relevant to the research question.
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