Age and Education

In general, Social Security favors disability claimants:

  • over the age of 50
  • those with a high school or less education
  • those with an unskilled work background

Frequently, I meet with honest, hardworking claimants who have worked in one occupation their entire life and consider themselves disabled because they cannot perform that job any more.  Social Security looks at more than a claimant’s capacity to perform past work – instead, we have to prove that you cannot perform any work.

Social Security does give something of a break to claimants age 50 and older who have limited skills and a limited education. Social Security recognizes that workers age 50 and older will have a much more difficult time finding an “entry level” simple, sit down type of job. There is a special set of rules called the “grids” that apply to claimants over age 50 who have limited skills and a high school or less education.  Click on the link to learn more about the grid rules.

How do the Grid Rules Work?

For Social Security purposes, a claimant who is less than 50 years old is considered a “younger individual” and is not entitled to any specific consideration due to age. At age 50 and again at age 55, special rules making it easier to qualify are put into place for claimants with physical impairments who have limited schooling.

If you are 50 or older, I can advise you if these special rules, called the “grid rules,” apply to you. Under the grids, if you are 50 years or older, your impairment is a physical problem and you have a limited formal education or no significant work skills, you can be found disabled even if there are some “sit-down” or “light” jobs you can still do. If you are age 50 or over, please ask me if you want to know whether the grids apply to you.

I think that in general, claimants with limited reading and writing skills have less capacity to transition into other jobs, and often this type of claimant has performed physical labor in past work. Most disability judges will recognize the difficulty that an unskilled worker with limited reading and writing skills and a serious medical problem will have getting back into the work force regardless of age.

Can Claimants Under 50 or Those With a College Education Ever Win?

Absolutely.  While those who are older and who have less education will have a little easier time, you can recover benefits at any age if your medical or mental health condition leaves you unable to perform even a simple, sit-down type of job.  I frequently advise my clients to consider whether they could be reliable workers at a “warm body” job – in other words, imagine that your main job duty is to show up and perform a one or two step task.  If you would not be reliable because you would miss too many days from work, or because you would have to take too many unscheduled breaks – then you would qualify for disability under Social Security’s rules.