Social Security Disability Benefits by Age

If the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made a decision that your medical condition doesn't meet a disability listing in their Blue Book but you are unable to work in your last job and you are over 50 years of age it will refer to the "grid rules" to decide whether you are disabled. There are grid rules for different age ranges which the SSA uses to determine if you are eligible for social security disability benefits.

What are the Grid Rules?

The grid rules are based on age, RFC (residual functional capacity), education and work experience. They are a series of tables that take into account several factors before pointing to determining whether someone is disabled or not disabled. For example, an RFC for sedentary work for someone 50 to 54 years who is considered to be approaching advanced age, who has completed grade 11 or less and whose skill levels are unskilled or hasn’t worked will be classified as disabled.

For someone who has completed grade 11 or less and does skilled or semi skilled work but the skills can’t be transferred, the applicant may be considered disabled. However, for someone who is near to being of an advanced age with limited education, who is skilled or semiskilled and has transferable skills is classified as not disabled.

What are the Age Breakdowns in the Age Chart?

For the 18-49 year olds the grids will typically consider an applicant as being "not disabled." However if you undertake a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) test you will be assessed on your limitations in relation to your ability to lift, carry, push, pull, stand, walk, or sit. The results of the RFC performed by your physician will determine if you are eligible for social security disability benefits. The expectations for applicants aged 50 to 54 years and over 55 years are far less than for the younger age group.

What is the Residual Function Capacity Classification Within Grid Rules?

The RFC has certain categories which are used to determine a disability benefit applicant’s physical abilities.

The first is sedentary work, which is the ability of the applicant to lift occasionally no more than ten pounds and more often five pounds. This work mainly takes place while seated but standing and walking are limited to just two hours in an 8 hour long day. 

The second is light work which is lifting no more than 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds often. These are for stand-up jobs that require standing or walking up to 6 hours a day and sitting around 2 hours per 8-hour day.

The third is medium work which is lifting 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently. Medium work requires the person to stand or walk 6 hours in an 8-hour day and sit for about 2 hours.

The fourth is heavy work which requires the person to lift 100 pounds occasionally and 50 pounds frequently. Heavy work requires the person to stand 6 hours in an 8-hour day and sit for about 2 hours.

The fifth is very heavy work which requires a person to lift more than 100 pounds occasionally with the same standing/walking and lifting requirements of the other non-sedentary job categories.

What Are the Education Classifications?

One factor in each grid rule is a claimant’s educational level. This helps to determine if a disability benefits applicant can get work based on educational level. The levels of education are illiteracy, marginal, limited education and a high school education and above. Illiteracy is not being able to read or write and a claimant is considered illiterate if the applicant hasn’t completed 4th grade. Marginal is when formal schooling has been completed at 6th grade or less.  Limited education is when formal schooling has been completed from the 7th to the 11th grade. High school education and above is formal schooling completed at a level of 12th grade and above.

What are the Work Experience Classifications?

The SSA will classify any previous relevant work in the grids as unskilled, semi-skilled, and skilled. The determination is based on the description you give of your past work, how long it took to be trained for the job, and how your work is classified by the Department of Labor. If you do not possess any relevant work experience, the grids are far more likely to say you are disabled. Typically, if you are older, possess limited education, and/or have a lower RFC (for sedentary or light work) you are more likely to be categorized as disabled.

How is a Decision Made with the Grid Rules?

The categories you fit into in the grid rules help the SSA make a decision if you are disabled. For example, If you have medium work ability due to a severe disability, are of an advanced age (55+), have limited education and no previous work experience, the decision will be that you are disabled. However, if you’re 50, illiterate and are unskilled or do not have previous work experience, you will not be classified as disabled. You can make you own assessment by studying the chart:

If you find it hard understanding how to use the disability age chart, an attorney may be able to help. One of the key facts used in the grid rules is your age and as you approach a more advanced age the SSA considered you have less chance of getting a job, so it is more likely to classify you as disabled.

In younger people it is more difficult to be classified as disabled so it is a good to get a Free Case Evaluation from an attorney who may help you get your disability benefit entitlements, so you don’t suffer financial hardship because the SSA denies your social security disability benefit application.

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