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)

Rule Age Education Previous work experience Decision
201.01 Advanced age Limited or less Unskilled or none Disabled
201.02 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1   Do.
201.03 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1 Not disabled
201.04 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2 Unskilled or none Disabled
201.05 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2 ……do Not disabled
201.06 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2 Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1 Disabled
201.07 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1 Not disabled
201.08 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2 Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable 1   Do.
201.09 Closely approaching advanced age Limited or less Unskilled or none Disabled
201.10 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
201.11 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable Not disabled
201.12 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 3 Unskilled or none Disabled
201.13 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 3 ……do Not disabled
201.14 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 3 Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable Disabled
201.15 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable Not disabled
201.16 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 3 Skilled 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)

Rule Age Education Previous work experience Decision
202.01 Advanced age Limited or less Unskilled or none Disabled.
202.02 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
202.03 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 1 Not disabled.
202.04 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2 Unskilled or none Disabled.
202.05 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2 ……do Not disabled.
202.06 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work 2 Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable Disabled.
202.07 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable 2 Not disabled.
202.08 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work 2 Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
202.09 Closely approaching advanced age Illiterate or unable to communicate in English Unskilled or none Disabled.
202.10 ……do Limited or less—at least literate and able to communicate in English ……do Not disabled.
202.11 ……do Limited or less Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
202.12 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
202.13 ……do High school graduate or more Unskilled or none   Do.
202.14 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
202.15 ……do ……do Skilled 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)

Rule Age Education Previous work experience Decision
203.01 Closely approaching retirement age Marginal or none Unskilled or none Disabled.
203.02 ……do Limited or less None   Do.
203.03 ……do Limited Unskilled Not disabled.
203.04 ……do Limited or less Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.05 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.06 ……do High school graduate or more Unskilled or none   Do.
203.07 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.08 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.09 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.10 Advanced age Limited or less None Disabled.
203.11 ……do ……do Unskilled Not disabled.
203.12 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.13 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.14 ……do High school graduate or more Unskilled or none   Do.
203.15 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.16 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.17 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.18 Closely approaching advanced age Limited or less Unskilled or none   Do.
203.19 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.20 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.21 ……do High school graduate or more Unskilled or none   Do.
203.22 ……do High school graduate or more—does not provide for direct entry into skilled work Skilled or semiskilled—skills not transferable   Do.
203.23 ……do ……do Skilled or semiskilled—skills transferable   Do.
203.24 ……do High school graduate or more—provides for direct entry into skilled work Skilled 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 – Florida Workers Compensation & Social Security Disability Attorney

Victor Malca P.A. has over 27 years of litigation experience in Workers Compensation and Social Security Disability lawsuits. His experience and continued success when fighting for his clients puts him among the most trusted workers’ compensation attorney’s in Florida. He specializes in representing injured workers on compensation benefit cases and disabled individuals claiming lost social security disability benefits.

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

About The Author

Judy Ponio is a writer and editor for the Victor Malca Law P.A. website and blog. She enjoys helping people in need with questions about social security disability and workers compensation law. She has a passion for helping those in need and the elderly with accurate legal information that can make a positive difference in their lives.