The Factor of Age In Social Security Disability Evaluation

Many medical conditions occur more frequently to workers as they age into the later part of their working years. Most people are not limited by arthritis, cardiac disease, Type II diabetes, and many other conditions until reaching their 50s and 60s.

The Social Security regulations take age into consideration by essentially requiring that younger workers under age 50 go back to school, or otherwise learn a new trade if a severe illness or injury causes them to be unable to perform the only work they had carried out.

For any worker under age 50 with basic literacy skills, the Social Security Administration will not pay disability benefits even if that person is medically precluded from continuing work in their customary job, if the worker could still reliably perform full time work of the least demanding type.

Terry LaPorte, a San Jose disability lawyer, cites an example: Joe is a 48 year old man with a 25-year history as an electrician. Because of severe and crippling injuries to the knees, Joe can no longer stand and walk for prolonged periods, and can’t perform his usual work in the electrical trades. However, he can still sit for prolonged times, but lacks the computer skills to perform most office work. In this example, Joe could not qualify for SSA disability at age 48. This can be a harsh result for Joe, particularly in high-cost residential areas throughout Northern California. What is hard for most people to understand is that the same Joe, if he were just two years older at age 50, would almost certainly qualify for SSA disability benefits.

The importance of age is expressed through SSA guidelines commonly known as the “Grids”. The Grids rules apply when the worker can no longer perform any “past relevant work” he or she has performed in the last 15 years. The Grids rules codify a public policy implied in the Social Security Act that younger people in the U.S. are more vocationally “flexible” and should be required to learn new skills to retrain to a new career, according to Terry LaPorte, a San Jose disability attorney. Joe, at 48, has enough years of his working life left to be a productive member of the national economy in another type of job. Essentially, the Grids require that SSA deny Joe’s claim because he can do a sit-down job; and thereby force Joe to decide that he had better get back to a community college or vocational skill to obtain skills to perform that sedentary work.

In our example, Joe can still perform sedentary, full-time work. For other people with other medical conditions, they are not so “lucky”, and can’t perform any 40-hour a week work. Many medical conditions, for example psychiatric and neurological disorders, can first afflict people at any age. The fact that serious disabilities “know no age” is reflected in the attached chart from the Social Security Administration showing that the average age of workers receiving disability benefits declined from age 57 in 1960 to 49.8 in 1995, before increasing to age 53 in 2011, the last year for which statistics are available. San Jose disability lawyer Terry LaPorte and the firm’s other disability lawyers and representatives have successfully represented thousands of people of all ages in applications and appeals for disability benefits.