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When I talk with clients and potential clients, I often hear stories about their inability to find work. Unfortunately, whether or not you can realistically get hired for a job is not a consideration for Social Security disability benefits. Instead, the SSA must find that you are unable to work before you will be awarded disability benefits.

There is an important distinction in Social Security disability practice between the inability to find work and the inability to perform work. The SSA has a regulation on this issue. See 20 CFR 404.1566, which states in part:

We will determine that you are not disabled if your residual functional capacity and vocational abilities make it possible for you to do work which exists in the national economy, but you remain unemployed because of—

(1) Your inability to get work;

(2) Lack of work in your local area;

(3) The hiring practices of employers;

(4) Technological changes in the industry in which you have worked;

(5) Cyclical economic conditions;

(6) No job openings for you;

(7) You would not actually be hired to do work you could otherwise do; or

(8) You do not wish to do a particular type of work.

At step 5 of the sequential evaluation, Social Security will match your residual functional capacity to the requirements of jobs in the national economy. For the purposes of a Social Security disability determination, it doesn’t matter if no employer would hire you.

You may be unemployable as a practical matter, but still not disabled under SSA rules. That is why disability lawyers focus on developing evidence of your functional limitations. We must demonstrate your inability to maintain employment, regardless of whether or not an employer would hire you.

Likewise, when I prepare clients for their hearings, I always discuss the answer to the question “Why can’t you work?” An answer unrelated to your functional limitations is not an appropriate answer to that question.