Why It’s Easier to Apply for Disability if You’re Over 50

While you can apply for disability benefits at any age, doing it when you’re over 50 increases your chances of getting approved.

Suffering from a disability before retirement is common among US workers. In fact, the SSA reported that one in four of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching the age of 67. And more than 13,000 people under 65 are receiving social security disability benefits as of December 2019.

But young disabled workers might have a more difficult time qualifying for social security disability benefits than their older counterparts. Why is this so? The answer lies in SSA’s disability rules.

Aside from having enough social security credits, the SSA requires that your medical condition prevents you from working. Most workers claim disability benefits on the grounds of not being able to go back to work. But sometimes the SSA deems that they are still capable of working – just not the same job they were doing before they got disabled. As such, they may not qualify for disability benefits.

This, however, is not strictly true for older workers. The agency believes that the older you get, the more difficult it is for you to learn a new skill. Hence, the less likely it is for you to get a new job. This is why it’s generally easier to apply for disability if you’re over 50. This principle is also reflected in the SSA’s grid rules for determining disability claims.

How the Disability “Grid Rules” Work

When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA will check if your medical condition is listed in their blue book. If not, they will determine if your condition prevents you from working.

This is where the grid of medical-vocational rules (commonly referred to as the “grid rules”) enters the picture.

The SSA’s grid rules take into account the following medical-vocational factors to determine your eligibility for disability benefits:

  • Age
    • The grid system classifies claimant ages into four categories: younger individuals (18-49 years old), closely approaching advanced age (50-54 years old), advanced age (50 -59 years old), and closely approaching retirement age (60 years and older).
  • Education level
    • People with lower education levels have lesser employment opportunities. Thus, they are more likely to get disability benefits.
  • Skill level from your past work
    • The SSA categorizes an applicant’s skill level into three: skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled. Unskilled laborers usually have a hard time finding work making them more likely to get benefits.
  • Any other skills
    • If you have no other skills that can be useful in a different line of work, the SSA may grant your disability claim.
  • Your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)
    • RFC refers to the applicant’s ability to do full-time work on a regular basis. Using your medical records, the SSA will determine if you can perform sedentary tasks or do regular activities such as standing, walking. This will then be used to gauge your RFC for various types of jobs ranging from sedentary to very heavy work. The higher your RFC, the less likely you are to get approved.
A woman speaking with a professional about social security laws

Once the SSA determines the claimant’s age, education, and skills, they will refer to the grid rules chart to determine if they are disabled. Here’s what the grid looks like for people 50 and above:

Table No. 1—Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Sedentary Work as a Result of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)

RuleAgeEducationPrevious work experienceDecision
201.01Advanced ageLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.02……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1  Do.
201.03……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1Not disabled
201.04……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2Unskilled or noneDisabled
201.05……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2……doNot disabled
201.06……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1Disabled
201.07……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1Not disabled
201.08……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1  Do.
201.09Closely approaching advanced ageLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled
201.10……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
201.11……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferableNot disabled
201.12……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 3Unskilled or noneDisabled
201.13……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 3……doNot disabled
201.14……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 3Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferableDisabled
201.15……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferableNot disabled
201.16……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 3Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.

Table No. 2—Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Light Work as a Result of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)

RuleAgeEducationPrevious work experienceDecision
202.01Advanced ageLimited or lessUnskilled or noneDisabled.
202.02……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
202.03……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1Not disabled.
202.04……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2Unskilled or noneDisabled.
202.05……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2……doNot disabled.
202.06……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferableDisabled.
202.07……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 2Not disabled.
202.08……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
202.09Closely approaching advanced ageIlliterate or unable to communicate in EnglishUnskilled or noneDisabled.
202.10……doLimited or less—at least literate and able to communicate in English……doNot disabled.
202.11……doLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
202.12……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
202.13……doHigh school graduate or moreUnskilled or none  Do.
202.14……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
202.15……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.

Table No. 3—Residual Functional Capacity: Maximum Sustained Work Capability Limited to Medium Work as a Result of Severe Medically Determinable Impairment(s)

RuleAgeEducationPrevious work experienceDecision
203.01Closely approaching retirement ageMarginal or noneUnskilled or noneDisabled.
203.02……doLimited or lessNone  Do.
203.03……doLimitedUnskilledNot disabled.
203.04……doLimited or lessSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.05……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.06……doHigh school graduate or moreUnskilled or none  Do.
203.07……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.08……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.09……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.10Advanced ageLimited or lessNoneDisabled.
203.11……do……doUnskilledNot disabled.
203.12……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.13……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.14……doHigh school graduate or moreUnskilled or none  Do.
203.15……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.16……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.17……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.18Closely approaching advanced ageLimited or lessUnskilled or none  Do.
203.19……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.20……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.21……doHigh school graduate or moreUnskilled or none  Do.
203.22……doHigh school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.
203.23……do……doSkilled or semiskilled—skills transferable  Do.
203.24……doHigh school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled workSkilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable  Do.

Basically, people who are 50 years and older may claim disability if:

  • they’re unskilled and with limited education
  • the have limited education and are semi-skilled or with non-transferable skills
  • they’re unskilled and their education does not provide direct entry into skilled work
  • they’re semi-skilled or with non-transferable skills and their education does not provide direct entry into skilled work
  • unskilled and illiterate or unable to communicate in English

These, however, still depend on their RFC. If you want to understand more about the SSA’s grid rules, you can see the full chart here. Remember, however, that the grid rules only apply to social security disability insurance (SSDI) claims. If you’re applying for supplemental security income (SSI), different rules may apply.

Applying for Disability Benefits at Over 50 Years Old

The process for applying for social security disability benefits is the same regardless of age. You can apply online, by phone, or visit an SSA office near you.

Whatever application method you prefer, you will need to provide the following information:

  • a description of your impairment
  • treatment sources
  • any other information that relates to your disability

The processing of disability claims usually starts at the local SSA offices. They will evaluate your eligibility for disability benefits based on non-medical requirements. If they find you eligible, they’ll send your claim to the Disability Determinations Services (DDS). The DDS will evaluate your impairment as well as the submitted medical evidence. They may also schedule a consultative examination (CE) if your medical evidence isn’t enough.

If the DDS determines that you meet all of the SSA’s disability requirements, you’ll start receiving your social security benefits right away. If not, you can appeal the determination. Though hiring a disability attorney isn’t really required, it can increase your chances of getting approved especially if you’re appealing a denied disability. Having a disability lawyer like Victor Malca working for you will also make things a whole lot easier on your part. He will guide you through the entire process – from helping you produce the necessary medical evidence to representing you at ALJ hearings. He’s already helped thousands of injured workers in Florida and he can help you too. Call us now for a free consultation.

VICTOR MALCA LAW – A TRUSTED NAME IN FLORIDA

Victor Malca P.A. has over 27 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success in fighting for his clients puts among the most trusted workers’ compensation lawyers in Florida. Our area of expertise is in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claim social security disability benefits.

Our unwavering advocacy for employee rights and privileges are recognized by our past clients across South Florida. Book a free consultation today.

Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca LawABOUT THE AUTHOR

Judy Ponio is a writer for Victor Malca Law P.A. and enjoys helping people with questions about social security, workers compensation, and other serious matters involving people’s livelihood. She is not an attorney and her writing should not be considered legal advice.

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