Increasingly basic skills are a priority with employers in identifying new employees. Employers value basic skills that flow from education, including the capacity to learn new skills or information, much more than they value job-specific skills. As with age, the independent influence of work experience is difficult to evaluate. Work experience is certainly important in terms of capacity to return to a worker’s own occupation after an injury or illness. However, the vocational factors are used most often in evaluating the capacity of workers to do jobs other than those that they have held before.

In summary, the review raised questions about the utility of multiple gradations of educational attainment in evaluating the vocational factors in disability determination and the utility of making determinations based on a worker’s transferable skills. Existing knowledge concerning vocational factors and their impact on the ability to perform jobs in the national economy raises challenging questions about the continuing validity of the approach taken by SSA’s existing grid rules. It suggested a critical need for a program of research designed to validate or reform the use of vocational factors in SSA’s disability decision process.

SSA recognizes that it may have to make significant revisions to the rules it uses to determine disability, especially in light of the changes that the Department of Labor is making in its occupational data. SSA’s current rules, especially the grid rules, are based in part on both the organizational structure and the data content of the DOT. Without it, those rules will probably have to be revised in a fundamental way. SSA also recognizes that such a revision might also necessitate a change in the way it incorporates evaluation of age, education, and work experience in its disability decision-making process.3

Variations in Disability Allowances. As shown in the previous chapters, over the past two decades the number of disability beneficiaries as a share of the civilian labor force has risen steadily. Although applications for benefits have increased only moderately, the number of new beneficiaries has nearly doubled. Disability allowance rates (awards as a percentage of applications) have varied over time from 31.4 percent in 1980 to nearly 47 percent in 2000 (see Table 2-1). Variations in allowance rates occur for several reasons. For example, SSA’s standards for judging claims differ over time. Dramatic reductions in approval rates occurred when standards were abruptly tightened in 1980 and then subsequently made liberal. Significant differences are observed in approval rates across states, between the state Disability Determination Service (DDS) decision mak-


Personal communication, David Barnes, Office of Disability, SSA, December 14, 2001.

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