Very often, I meet with people who are too sick or too injured to work at their old job. As a consequence, they believe that they should qualify for federal Social Security disability benefits. Unfortunately, for many of those people, the inability to perform past work is just one step on the path to obtain Social Security disability. There is another step which must be successfully managed in order to obtain the benefits. This “other step” is the regulatory requirement that there not exist a substantial number of jobs in several regions throughout the United States which they can perform on an 8 hours a day 40 hour a week.
Before Social Security looks at the “other step” (it is normally referred to as “Step 5”) Social Security has already completed Step 1 through Step 4. Briefly, Social Security has determined that the worker is not currently working (“Step 1”); has determined that the worker has severe impairment(s) (that is a medical condition which interferes with the worker’s ability to work) (“Step 2”); has determined that the severe impairments do not meet or equal the Commissioner’s Listing of Impairments (“Step 3”); has made a residual functional capacity setting out what the most the worker can do despite his/her severe impairments; and has determined that the residual functional capacity does not permit the worker to perform his/her normal job (“Step 4”).
The Step 5 questions are (1) whether the residual functional capacity will permit the worker to do other jobs, different from the worker’s normal job and if yes, (2) whether those “other jobs” exist in significant numbers in several regions throughout the country. Many people are surprised to learn that not being able to perform their normal job is not enough to obtain federal Social Security disability. They are even more surprised to learn that when Social Security considers the “other jobs” it does not care whether those “other jobs” are located in the same city or town as the worker or even the same state. Nor does Social Security care whether the worker will be hired at the “other job” or whether the worker will wish to work at the “other job” or whether the pay at the “other job” is at the same or higher level than the worker’s normal job. The only things which Social Security focus on is whether the worker can do the “other job” and whether the other job exists in substantial numbers in several regions throughout the country.
Age and education do, in some cases, have an impact on job availability as does the ability to successfully adapt to other work. For example, if the worker is over 50 years old, has never performed sit down work, has less than a high school education and is limited to sit down work, Social Security recognizes that the occupational base has eroded enough so that there does not exist significant number of jobs in several regions throughout the country which that particular worker can perform. However, if that same worker can perform light work, Social Security will assume that there exists a significant number of jobs in several regions throughout the country which that individual can perform.