The Relationship Between Occupational Requirements and SSDI Activity
Matthew S. Rutledge, Alice Zulkarnain, Sara Ellen King
NBER Disability Research Center Paper No. NB 18-Q7
Issued in January 2019
Evaluations of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) applications are based not just on poor health, but in most cases consider the vocational factors of age, education and work experience to determine whether individuals can work. These criteria indicate that SSDI applicants must not only be in poor health, but in poor health that actually conflicts with the requirements of their occupation (and other occupations). Yet little is known about the relationship between SSDI activity and the ability to meet occupational requirements.
This study devises a Health Mismatch Index, which is the share of workers in an occupation citing healthrelated difficulties in the Survey of Income and Program Participation that would prevent them from performing at least one requirement marked as essential for their occupation in the Occupational Requirement Survey. The results show that the most common difficulties in required abilities that result in health mismatch are lifting 25 lbs., standing for one hour, or hearing well in a conversational setting. Furthermore, occupations with a high Index have lower earnings, are more exposed to hazardous environments, and place less emphasis on high performance and problem-solving. Jobs with higher rates of workers who experience at least one difficulty with a job requirement have a higher share of workers receiving SSDI benefits within a 16-month period. Although the share of the population receiving SSDI increased from 1997 to 2010, the Index fell from 7.4 to 6.1 percent, suggesting that the increase could have been higher if not for the decline in health mismatch.
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