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The Dynamics of Disability: Measuring and Monitoring Disability for Social Security Programs
meet with SSA and DOL to decide what is needed and how best to go about getting the information.2
Age, Education, and Work Experience. SSA has not updated the research base on the effect of age, education, and work experience on work disability that had been used in developing the medical–vocational guidelines of 1978, known as the “grid rules.” Since then, much has changed with regard to the relative importance of each of these factors. As part of the initiative to redesign the decision process, SSA included in its research plan the evaluation of the effect of vocational factors—age, education, and work experience—on the ability to work or adapt to work in the presence of functional impairment. To assist in deciding an appropriate way to incorporate into the redesigned disability decision process the specific statutory requirement to consider an individual’s vocational factors in determining ability to work, SSA entered into a reimbursable agreement with the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress to review and evaluate published literature and any other research pertaining to the subject. A report of the review was submitted to SSA in 1998. The findings of the review are summarized very briefly below.
Although age strongly affects decision making under the vocational grid, the literature review of the existing literature suggests that age may have little or no independent influence on ability to work (as distinguished from the likelihood of being hired or retained). Rather than chronological age being a common contributing factor to declining capacities, current studies suggest that the population actually becomes much more heterogeneous with respect to its functional capacity as it ages. Moreover, except for the relatively vague concept of “adaptability,” age does not seem to have a strong correlation with modal ability to work.
Education is clearly an important factor in employability. It affects the ability to acquire new skills, and earning power is related to education level. It is especially a problem with mental impairments. However, education above basic literacy levels has an uncertain relationship to the ability to do jobs that would produce substantial gainful employment. High levels of education are not necessary for jobs paying $8,400 per year. High levels of education may, of course, suggest that only the most debilitating injuries or illnesses would prevent substantial gainful employment by persons with such levels of educational attainment. In combination, these attributes suggest that education may be important as a vocational factor only at the upper and lower range of educational attainment, but not in the middle ranges.
Personal communication, Sylvia Karman and David Barnes, Office of Disability, SSA, October 3, 2001, and December 4, 2001.