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Can You Get Disability Benefits if You Never Worked?

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
September 18, 2023  ·  2 min read
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Atticus offers free, high-quality disability advice for Americans who can't work. Our team of Stanford and Harvard trained lawyers has a combined 15+ years of legal experience, and have helped over 10,000 Americans apply for disability benefits.

See if you qualify

Do you need disability benefits, but you’ve never worked a job? There are two federal programs that provide disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To qualify for SSDI benefits, individuals need an earnings record and proof of income tax payments. If you do not have an employment history, it is possible to get SSI benefits if you meet the medical and financial requirements.

Can you get disability benefits if you never worked?

If you've never worked a job, it is possible to receive SSI benefits, but it is highly unlikely to get SSDI benefits without an employment history. You can receive SSI disability benefits if you have never worked and you meet the program’s medical, income, and asset requirements. Individuals with limited income, resources, and assets should apply for SSI. Individuals may qualify for SSDI through the disabled adult child (DAC) or survivors’ benefits programs if they meet certain qualifications, but SSDI requires people to have worked for five or more out of the past 10 years and accrue 40 work credits.

Can you get SSI if you never worked?

The Social Security Administration provides SSI recipients with monthly checks and free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid. To be eligible for SSI disability benefits, you must meet the following medical and financial requirements:

  • Medical: To qualify for SSI benefits, you must be blind or have a medical condition that keeps you from working and persists for at least one year.

  • Age: If you’re 65 or older, you can get SSI even if you don’t have a disability, so long as you meet the financial qualifications.

  • Income: The SSI program requires less than $943 in countable monthly income in 2024 if you’re unmarried, or less than $1,415 if you’re married.

  • Assets: The program also has restrictions on assets, like savings and property. To qualify, you must have less than $2,000 in countable assets if you’re unmarried, or less than $3,000 if you’re married.

How to apply for SSI benefits

To apply for SSI disability benefits, you’ll need to gather documentation proving you meet the medical qualifications, including forms like test results or doctor notes. You’ll also need documents verifying your income and assets are below the standard limit, such as payroll stubs, tax returns, lease or rental agreements, and vehicle registration.

Get our lawyers’ tips for filling out and submitting your SSI application here.

Is applying for disability benefits worth it?

Yes, applying for SSI or SSDI benefits is worthwhile. The application requires a lot of work and it can take a long time (in some cases, up to two years) to get approved. SSI recipients get monthly payments — up to $943 per individual — as well as free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid. 

If you know your condition will last a full year, and you have the medical evidence to prove it, apply as soon as possible. After the Social Security Administration approves your case, you’ll receive back pay with your first check. Back pay is a lump sum that covers the time you should have been getting payments during the time you spent waiting to hear back on your application. 

Need money to live on while your application is processed? Check our guide on what to do for income while waiting for disability

Learn more about applying for disability

The SSA’s definition of disability is any condition that falls under the following criteria:

  • Be related to an illness or injury diagnosed by a physician

  • Last for at least one year 

  • Keep you from working at your current job

  • Keep you from doing other jobs

To begin the process, submit an initial application. It’s important to know most applicants — over 70% — receive a rejection at this stage.  If the SSA denies your application, it is your right to appeal the decision. Your case can move to a hearing in front of a judge if your application is rejected again after the appeal. 

Get help applying for disability

No matter what stage you are in the application, a disability lawyer can help. A good attorney will use their experience working on disability cases to guide you through the process of getting disability benefits. They’ll be especially helpful if your case moves to a hearing in court, and applicants with lawyers are three times more likely to win a hearing if they have a lawyer. You don’t need to look any further to find a vetted lawyer — that’s what we do here at Atticus. To get started, take our short disability benefits quiz. Then someone from our team will reach out to learn more about your situation and match you with the best lawyer for your case.

Related resources:

An Easy-to-Follow Guide to Applying for Disability Benefits

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

How Many Work Credits Do You Need For SSDI?

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

See what you qualify for

How long has your condition made it hard to work?

Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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