Job Titles, Disability Claims and Capitalism’s Constant Changes

“All that is solid melts into air,” wrote Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in “The Communist Manifesto” of 1848.

Today, of course, the pipe-dream of communism advocated by the two authors is thoroughly discredited. But the insight that the dynamism of capitalism disrupts traditional relationships is now widely accepted.

Indeed, the changes wrought by capitalism seem to only have accelerated in recent years as technology has transformed so many workplaces. In this post, we will focus on how some of these changes are affecting the field of Social Security disability law.

A key element of the application process for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits is showing how impairments impact the ability to work. And this requires taking account of the various jobs that are available in the area where an applicant lives.

A potential problem, however, is that the catalog of jobs available in the geographic area where an applicant lives does not always keep up with the current reality of the job market.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is aware of this. The SSA is embarked on an extensive project to update the job titles it uses for its job listings. These titles, as they stand, sometimes seem stuck in the 19th century, containing jobs such as “blacksmith” that have long vanished into air.

The job titles can also be sexist. One current listing, for example, is “show girl,” which seems to connote a bygone world of vaudeville, far from today’s reality of streaming online video.

There are more than 10,000 of these titles, often based on obsolete categories, and they haven’t been updated since 1991. Though a comprehensive revision is underway, the SSA does not expect to complete it until 2016 at the earliest.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Six Changes Social Security Is Making to Its Disability Program,” Damian Paletta, Dec. 26, 2013