SSA Grid Rules: How Education Level Affects SSDI

Written by TC Newlin

TC is a disability litigator and one of the managing partners in the Social Security Disability Department at Fleschner, Stark, Tanoos & Newlin. He has had the pleasure of helping thousands of people obtain the benefits they so desperately need.

July 14, 2021

Will I Be Found ‘Disabled’ Based On My Education Level?

In order to be found ‘disabled’ under the Social Security Disability program, you need to be unable to perform any work. Congress has recognized, however, that as an individual ages, it becomes more difficult for them to learn new skills and, and as a result, learn different types of work. SSA has accounted for this fact in it’s rules and regulations by implementing a set of rules commonly referred to as the grid rules. Grid rules permit individuals over the age of 50 to be found disabled if they can no longer perform their past work and have various other vocational limitations. One factor in each grid rule is a claimant’s educational level.   The other two are “age” as previously mentioned and skills obtained from “previous work experience”. In summary, the more education one has, the easier it is for them to find and transfer to other or new work. On the other hand, the less education one has, the less likely they are to find other types of jobs.

What Are the Grid Rules Categories of Education?

The Administration has created 4 categories of educational level.

RuleAgeEducationPrevious Work ExperienceData
Illiteracy
Marginal
Limited Education
High School Education and Above

Illiteracy

The inability to read or write. A decisionmaker will generally find the claimant to be illiterate if they have failed to complete the 4th grade.

Of course, that general assumption can be overcome by evidence to the contrary as there are obviously ways to learn to read or write other than through formal education.

Every hearing I have been to, the judge will ask a claimant if they can read and write. Almost always, the client’s response properly answers the questions and puts the issue to rest.

Marginal

Formal schooling completed at a level of 6th grade or less (in any country).

Limited Education

Formal schooling completed at a level of 7th through 11th grade (in any country).

High School Education and Above

Formal schooling completed at a level of 12th grade and above (in any country).

Obtaining a GED, HiSET, TASC or an equivalent is accepted as a high school education.

Do I Need to Provide Evidence of My Education?

As mentioned above, generally a claimant’s testimony at a disability hearing or their response to questionnaires throughout the process is all it takes to categorize one’s education. A decisionmaker; however, needs to consider all evidence when classifying one’s education level. Whether that is self-reported information, information from the claimant’s medical records or actual school records, it should all be considered. Additionally, if there is evidence that the claimant’s numerical grade is not representative of the claimant’s educational abilities, then a decisionmaker can assign the claimant to a higher or lower category as appropriate. All that being said, a judge does not need to resolve conflicting information unless doing so is material to the outcome of the case. If the decision is the same regardless of the education level, a decisionmaker will use the education level the claimant reported on the most recent disability report.

Does My Education Provide for Direct Entry Into Skilled Work?

If a claimant is a high school graduate or more, a decisionmaker will need to determine whether or not that formal education provides for direct entry into skilled work. Determining whether or not education provides direct entry into skilled or semiskilled work is similar to the analysis required for transferability of skills, in that the education needs to provide an advantage in doing a particular skilled or semi-skilled job at a high degree of proficiency with a minimal amount of job orientation. The question being asked is whether or not that education gives the claimant a vocational advantage over someone that does not have that education.

Does It Matter How Recent My Education Is?

In order to evaluate the recency of education, the decisionmaker must consider the amount of time between the actual education and the date of the hearing or the claimant’s date last insured if it has expired. The shorter that time period is, the more likely a claimant’s education is to provide a vocational advantage. In addition to the recency of that education, the decisionmaker needs to account for the type of education the claimant received. The longer the duration of education and the higher the skill level of that occupation (think doctors), the less likely the advantage is to diminish over time. Conversely, the shorter the duration of education and the lesser the skill level of that occupation, the more likely it is for the advantage of education to diminish over time (think high school education and convenience store clerk).

Does My Education Provide Direct Entry Into Other Work?

Whether or not one’s education provides direct entry into other work is material to the disability determination only if the claimant is:

  • a high school graduate or more
  • age 50 or older
  • recently completed specific education (no more than 5 days from the date of the hearing) designed to prepare one for a specific skilled or semi-skilled job (like truck driving school, law school, med school, nursing school)
  • has the RFC or mental RFC to do that work

If all that is true, the outcome of the grid rule must also result in not disabled for both the ‘provides for direct entry’ and ‘does not provide for direct entry’ rules.

Do I Qualify for SSD Benefits?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

Do I Qualify for Social Security Disability?

Browse our SSDI resource library to find clear answers and determine if you qualify for up to $3,148/month in SSD benefits.

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