Qualifying for Social Security Disability can be easier after age 50. A person in their fifties is considered less “trainable” and more susceptible to injury and illness—which often makes them a better candidate for benefits.
However, there are still many factors to consider regarding your application. The courts will determine:
If you are able to work in any capacity in your previous workplace.
If you are able to learn new skills.
If you are able to work in a new work environment.
Your current capacity for basic physical activities.
Who is eligible for Social Security Disability?
When applying for disability, the SSA will request work history details, including how you did your job and what new skills were learned while you were in the workplace. Your education will also be factored in.
If it’s decided that you are physically and mentally able to do your past work or learn skills to work in another field, you will not be eligible for disability income. This is why retaining a Social Security disability may be helpful. A professional in this field will be able to navigate the application process and the court system as you make your disability claim. Atticus will be able to connect you with a great SSA lawyer free of charge, making it about three times more likely for you to win
How does Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) work?
To determine eligibility, the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at your past work experience and determines whether or not your disability has prevented you from doing that work.
If your disability prevents you from working, you can apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
At Atticus, we think of this program as “forced insurance.” If you’ve worked in the US and paid taxes, you’ve likely paid into the Social Security program. If you’re disabled and eligible for SSDI, Social Security Disability payments are then made available to you.
Is it easier to get Social Security Disability if you're over 50?
It is! Here’s why.
If you’re able to work, you’re not eligible for SSDI. In general, when evaluating whether or not you can work, the Social Security Administration evaluates whether or not you can work any job.
For example, suppose you worked in construction before becoming disabled. In that case, you’d have to prove you can no longer work in construction and that you can no longer work in any field (at a desk, taking tickets at a movie theater, washing dishes, etc.).
But this rule changes when you’re over 50.
According to the SSA, a person of this age is less trainable in new fields and therefore less likely to make a vocational transition, even if in good health.
After 50, you only have to prove you can no longer work jobs you've held and been trained to do in the past.
How hard is it to get disability after 50?
The most important thing to know about disability income over age 50
People under 50 must prove their disability prevents them from doing any work. People over 50 have to prove they can’t do the type of work they’ve done before or adjust to other work.
This basic rule of thumb is what makes the 50-year age mark the most important one. That being said, there are still many other factors that the Social Security Administration will consider when determining your case.
Some of the other factors
In addition to age, the federal courts will look at your education level and how skilled the work you used to do was. That means that if you are at the younger end and did very skilled work with a high level of education, you may be able to adapt to more work. In this case, you would less likely be eligible for Social Security Disability because, from the government's perspective, you can work in another field despite your disability.
If you are older, did unskilled work, and have a low level of education, you probably can’t adapt to other work and, therefore, will be eligible for disability income.
What about skills?
Certain job skills are approved for Social Security Disability. So the courts will consider whether or not you graduated high school, have recent training for skilled work, or have limited education. You will be classified as skilled, unskilled, or semi-skilled, and those with a work history of unskilled labor are more likely to be eligible for disability income.
Everything else you need to know
So to win your disability claim, your age is a top consideration, along with your education level, skills, and record or past work. The final consideration is your residual functional capacity (RFC).
This is whatever work capacity you may still have. If you are able to perform any tasks or learn new skills in another field on a regular basis, you might be denied your claim. By this step in the process, you will have provided medical records, bills, and prescriptions, and your doctor will now need to submit a comprehensive assessment of your ability to do physical activities.
What physical activities do they use to determine my RFC?
To determine your RFC for your Social Security Disability application, your doctor will have to assess your ability to do a number of basic physical activities for a sustained amount of time.
Some of these activities include standing, walking, lifting, carrying, and pushing. Your doctor will also determine how much work you can handle, from basic sedentary work with minimal movement to light or medium workload capacity, or even heavy or very heavy work (this is quite a range because of the diversity of impairments people experience).
However, if your doctor finds you can still perform a reasonably heavy work capacity, withstand physical activities for a prolonged period, and reasonably learn new skills, you will be less likely to receive disability income. It is usually the case that the heavier load you can work with, the higher the difficulty of being approved.
What should I do next?
To learn if you're eligible for SSDI, take our 2-minute quiz. It'll tell you which disability benefits you qualify for, and connect you to a member of our team for more personalized advice.
To evaluate your eligibility on your own consider:
Your work history for at least the last 15 years. This includes all the activities you performed, both mentally and physically.
Any new skills you learned while in your previous work environments
All your education, including high school and beyond, as well as any recent training
Next, we suggest you contact Atticus for specific advice regarding your case. We will be able to advise you on the spot or connect you with someone who can.
In the meantime, be prepared to consult with your doctor, physical therapists, or any other rehabilitative support you have received, as each of these will contribute to the courts determining your eligibility for Social Security disability.
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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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