Saturday, March 25, 2017

Final Assembler, Lens Inserter, and the Optical Goods Industry

Building on our inquiry into the morass of standardless vocational expert testimony, this article focuses on the frequently cited occupations of final assembler and lens inserter.  These two sedentary unskilled jobs are favorites of vocational experts asked to identify simple, repetitive, work.  With reasoning, language, and math ratings of 1, these are the lowest rung of simplicity.  They are one- and two-step instruction occupations.  They meet all the criteria of a vocational expert bent on satisfying the ALJ's request for the identification of work that exists in the national economy in significant numbers.  The problem is that they don't.

Curious, both occupations exist in the optical goods industry -- per the DOT.  Both final assembler and lens inserter belong in the Standard Occupation Classification group for production workers, all other.  The O*NET describes production workers, all other in the same way that it describes every SOC group ending in 99:
"All Other" titles represent occupations with a wide range of characteristics which do not fit into one of the detailed O*NET-SOC occupations. O*NET data is not available for this type of title. For more detailed occupations under this title, see below.
The O*NET tells us that the SOC group contains 236,000 jobs in 2014.  A question from the gallery -- doesn't that leave wide latitude for the vocational expert to identify tens of thousands of jobs in the national economy?  That answer depends on one more factor -- how big is the optical goods manufacturing industry?  Optical Goods Manufacturing, NAICS code 339115, provides the starting point for the interim answer.   County Business Patterns informs us that this industry employs 24,935 people.  That is the entire industry, not just the final assembler and the lens insert, the entire industry.

The structure of the NAICS needs a refresher.  We use the concept of drilling down.  The manufacturing sector is 31-33.  Every industry code with more than two digits is a subset of 31, 32, or 33.  Optical Goods Manufacturing belongs to the manufacturing sector (31),  Adding interim digits gets the industry designation more and more specific.  All miscellaneous manufacturing belongs to the three-digit group 339.  Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing belongs to the four-digit group 3391 and the five-digit group 33911.  The five specific industries in that group are surgical and medical instrument manufacturing; surgical appliance and supplies manufacturing; dental equipment and supplies manufacturing; and ophthalmic goods manufacturing.

Now we turn to the employment projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  BLS sorts the tables by industry or occupation.  The XLSX link for production workers, all other gives the data. So does the XLSX link for medical equipment manufacturing.   Production workers make up 3,500 of the employees in the medical equipment manufacturing industry or 1.1% of the workforce.  But the ophthalmic goods manufacturing industry employs 24,910 people.  That tells us that 274 production production workers have employment in the industry.

We already know that final assemblers and lens inserters are both production workers.  It gets better.  Production workers, all other contains 1,590 or 1,526 different DOT codes (depending on whether we use the 2010 allocations or the 2012 changes).  Twenty of them work in the optical goods industry.  Of the 274 production workers in the ophthalmic goods industry, those people work in 20 different occupations.

To testify that the occupations of final assembler or lens inserter comprise hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of jobs in the national economy requires either (1) overt prevarication of the witness; or (2) reckless disregard for the truth.  To believe that those occupations represent more than 274 jobs in the national economy takes either (1) a desire to deny benefits to people that cannot engage in identifiable work; or (2) complete naivete.  Pick 'em.


  1. Do you know of legal authority that supports using O*NET job descriptions to show the VE's testimony presents an apparent conflict with the DOT?? I guess another way of asking it is what authority is there for relying on O*NET to show the government did not meet its step 5 burden?

  2. See