If a claimant for disability does not meet one of Social Security’s pre-set medical “Listings” standards for disability, the disability claimant has the initial burden of proof to show that he or she can’t perform any work performed in the last 15 years. If that is proven, the burden of proof shifts to the government to prove that there are no full time jobs which the claimant can perform, existing in “significant numbers” in the regional or national economy. Note that the regulations do not require there to be a significant number of jobs in your geographic region, but in either your region (e.g. Northern California or the San Francisco Bay Area); or the national economy.
The SSA must prove that there remain “significant numbers” of jobs which you can perform given your specific limitations. These are jobs that already exist in the national or regional economy, not the number of jobs currently available. This is most clearly seen during an ALJ hearing: a vocational expert will be asked if, given a specific set of restrictions (sitting, standing, lifting, concentrating, etc.), can you perform your prior work or any other work. The vocational expert testifies to what types of jobs you can perform given your specific restrictions, and how many full time positions exist which can be performed with those restrictions. These jobs must be able to be performed by an individual with your residual functional capacity AND there must be a significant number of jobs of that type in either the regional or national economy.
In California, the governing federal appeals court in SSA appeals is the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. While the Ninth Circuit Court has not determined how many jobs are significant, the court recently clarified how many jobs of one type of work are not significant. In Beltran v Astrue, published November 14, 2012, the vocational expert testified that only one job, a surveillance systems monitor, existed in the regional or national economy that could be performed given the medical restrictions and only 135 jobs regionally and 1,680 jobs nationally exist. The court found that 135 jobs regionally and 1,680 jobs nationally are not a significant number of jobs. In other words, if the vocational expert testifies that with your medical restrictions you can only work in one occupation, but there are 135 or fewer jobs in your region and 1,680 or fewer exist nationally, Social Security will likely find that that number is not a “significant number”, that you are disabled, and therefore eligible for SSA benefits.