Social Security vocational expert voodoo

I was recently asked the following:

I had my hearing today. The judge had a vocational rep come in to testify. He said I had two job options.

… I live in a small town that probably does not offer the two jobs the vocational expert said I could do.

Can the judge deny me for being able to do jobs that don’t exist in my town?

First, keep in mind that the Vocational Expert testifies about two things:

  1. Job Titles. These are the kinds of jobs you can still perform despite your limitations. Examples of jobs the vocational expert may cite are:  call out operator, surveillance systems monitor, information clerk, cashier, stocker, etc.
  2. Incidence of jobs. This is the number of jobs for each job title.

Second, Social Security considers jobs on a national and regional level. The region is the state a person lives in.

If there are a significant number of jobs which you can still do at a substantial gainful activity level in the regional economy, then you can be denied.

How many jobs make up a “significant number of jobs?”

That is hard to say. There is a rule of thumb that 1,000 jobs (not job titles) within a region is a significant number of jobs and enough to deny you. However, there is no bright line rule about how many jobs are a “significant number.”

If the Vocational Expert says that you can still work as an “Information Clerk” and there are 30,000 Information Clerk positions nationally, and 1,200 in the region (state), you may be denied.  Note: these numbers are made up for this example.

But, what if there aren’t any “Information Clerk” jobs in my town?

Unfortunately, Social Security does not consider the availability of jobs in your town, so long as they exist in your “region.” Not only that, Social Security also does not consider:

  • The number of job openings for any of the cited jobs.
  • Whether a person can actually get hired for any of the cited jobs.

It is quite possible to be denied because you are theoretically capable to do a job that does not exist in your home town. Or, there are no job openings. Or, there are job openings, but you cannot get hired for that job.

Social Security is a difficult system. You just have to keep trying and it really helps to have a skilled lawyer assisting you.