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How Does Your Age Affect Your Claim for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Some say age is just a number. While that may be true, the Social Security Administration pays special attention to that number when reviewing claims for disability. In fact, age may be the reason a disability claim is approved or denied.

The Social Security Administration utilizes "Medical-Vocational Guidelines"—also called "the grids"—to determine how someone's age factors into their disability.

50 Is NOT The “Magic Number” for Receiving Social Security Benefits

If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits or are considering applying, you may have read online or been told that age 50 is the magic number to be approved for Social Security disability. While age 50 is an important consideration for Social Security disability claims, there are additional factors to consider such as the claimant’s physical and mental work restrictions and limitations, as well as the claimant’s education and work experience.

In its review of disability claims, the Social Security Administration makes a determination about whether the claimant can perform sedentary, light, or medium work. Generally, sedentary work is a sitting job with minimal standing and walking, and requires only 10 pounds of lifting. Light work is generally considered to require standing and walking for 6 hours of a workday, and lifting up to 20 pounds. Medium work generally requires standing and walking for 6 hours of a workday, and lifting up to 50 pounds. The claim adjudicator reviews all medical evidence to determine the claimant’s ability or inability to perform the above kinds of work.

Further, the Social Security Administration also considers the claimant’s education and work experience. The adjudicator will determine whether a claimant can communicate in English, whether they have a limited education (less than completion of high school or GED), or whether they have additional education or vocational training. The Social Security Administration also reviews all relevant work skills. However, only the last 15 years of work history leading up to the claimant’s disability are considered.

What Are the “Grids”?

The premise of the grids is that once someone reaches age 50 or age 55, they are less likely to be trained for a different career that requires different job skills. For example, if a 50 year old disabled steel worker has no other work history and proves that they can no longer perform the physically demanding job of a steel worker, they will be found disabled if they are limited to a sedentary job.  However, if a 50 year old has worked in a job that is less physically demanding, such as a secretary or a customer service representative at a call center, then they may not be able to found disabled unless they prove that they are incapable of working in a sedentary job.

The Grids Are Applied to the Following Age Categories:

Ages 45-49 (Younger Individual)

In very limited situations, a person can be found disabled at age 45 if they are limited to sedentary work, do not possess job skills, and cannot communicate in English. This is not a common occurrence because disability claimants are typically able to communicate in English. However, if the claimant is illiterate, then they may be found disabled if the other criterion are met.

Ages 50-54 (Closely Approaching Advanced Age)

At age 50, a person can be found disabled if they are limited to sedentary work, lack an education that provides direct entry into skilled work, and lack job skills that transfer to sedentary work. In rare situations, a person can be found disabled at age 50 if they are limited to light work and cannot communicate in English or if the person is illiterate.

Ages 55-59 (Advanced Age)

At age 55, a person can be found disabled if they are limited to light work, have an education that does not provide direct entry into skilled work, and do not possess job skills that transfer to light or sedentary work. Of course, if a 55 year old claimant is limited to sedentary work, they can be found disabled just as the factors apply to 50 year olds.

Ages 60-64 (Closely Approaching Retirement Age)

In limited scenarios, someone can be found disabled at age 60 if they have less than a high school education, no work history, and are limited to medium work. If the claimant has no education and an unskilled work history, then they can also be found disabled under a Medical-Vocational Guideline. Again, if a 60 year old claimant is limited to sedentary or light work, then the same factors apply as they did for the above age categories.

Contact Our Disability Attorneys for Help With Your Application or Appeal

If someone has a history of working in a sedentary job, then they will likely have to prove that they are disabled from working in such a job. Please contact Keller & Keller if you have applied for Social Security disability benefits or are thinking about applying for benefits. We can provide you with a free consultation to determine whether or not we can assist you with your Social Security disability claim.

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