Understanding SSA Grid Rules for Ages 50-55

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.

June 1, 2021

How does turning 50 years old impact your chances for Social Security Disability Benefits?

The SSA grid rules start coming into play the day you turn 50 years of age.  These rules make it easier for a 50-year-old to be found disabled than it is for a 49-year-old.  The grid rules permit many people age 50 or above who are capable of sedentary work to be found disabled whereas that same person, age 49, would not be found disabled. 

The SSA grids were put into place by Congress because it recognized that the older you are the more difficult it is to adjust to new work and/or develop new skills.  Essentially, if you are unable to do your past work and are limited to performing work at the sedentary level, you win at age 50 if you lack skills that transfer to work that you are capable of performing.  

SSDI Over 50

Again, once you hit the age of 50 it becomes easier to be found disabled pursuant to the rules and regulations of Social Security Disability law. The reason it is easier is due to a thing we call the Grid rules. The grid rules were put into place by Congress because it recognized that the older you are the more difficult it is to adjust to new work and/or develop new skills.

SSA-Defined Exertion Level for SSDI Consideration

Exertional LevelSittingStandingLifting
Sedentary6 hours2 hours10lbs occasionally
Light2 hours6 hours20lbs occasionally
Medium2 hours6 hours50lbs occasionally
Heavy2 hours6 hours100lbs occasionally
Very Heavy2 hours6 hoursOver 100lbs

How to Determine if Grid Rules Will Apply to Me

  1. The first step is to locate the table under the exertional level that you are capable of performing.
  2. Then you need to locate the row that correctly identifies your education level.
  3. The next column requires a definition of your past work. Past work is work that you have done over the last 15 years. Work is defined in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles by exertional level and skill level. The question about whether or not you have transferable skills is one that is typically answered by a vocation expert (“VE”) at a disability hearing. Your lawyer should be familiar enough with the dictionary to give you an approximation of what a VE might say at your hearing.
  4. The final column tells you whether or not an Administrative Law Judge would be required to award benefits.

 

Grid Rules Example

Example: Scenario: Claimant is 51 years old, capable of performing sit-down work (sedentary exertional level), is a high school graduate and has past work at McDonald’s.

Step 1:

Locate the table under sedentary work.

Step 2:

Find the three rows for high school graduates.

Step 3:

I googled ‘dictionary of occupational titles fast food worker’ and found a job actually titled FAST-FOODS WORKER. 

If you click on that link, you’ll see at the bottom in bold that the strength of this job is “L” and the SVP of this job is “2”.  (SVP 1-2 is unskilled; 3-4 is semi-skilled; 5 and up is skilled work).  

Step 4:

Note that the 4th row in the sedentary table has the same education and work experience as our example and warrants a finding of disabled.

Decision: Under these facts, the claimant would be found disabled. 

Sedentary Grid Rules: Code Of Federal Regulations
EducationSkill LevelDecision
Completed 11 grade or lessUnskilled work or no workDisabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work but skills are not transferableDisabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work with transferable skillsNot disabled
High school graduate (or GED) or higherUnskilled work or no workDisabled
High school graduate (or GED) or higherSkilled or semiskilled work but skills not transferableDisabled
High school graduate (or GED) or higherSkilled or semiskilled work with transferable skillsNot disabled
Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (high school graduate or more)Unskilled work or no workNot disabled
Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (high school graduate or higher)Skilled or semiskilled work, whether skills are transferable or notNot disabled

Light Grid Rules: Code Of Federal Regulations
EducationSkill LevelDecision
IlliterateUnskilled work or no workDisabled
Completed 11 grade or lessUnskilled work or no workNot disabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work but skills not transferableNot disabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work with transferable skillsNot disabled
High school graduate or higherUnskilled work or no workNot disabled
High school graduate or higherSkilled or semiskilled work but skills not transferableNot disabled
High school graduate or higherSkilled or semiskilled with transferable skillsNot disabled

Medium Grid Rule: Code Of Federal Regulations
EducationSkill LevelDecision
Completed 11 grade or lessUnskilled work or no workNot disabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work but skills not transferableNot disabled
Completed 11 grade or lessSkilled or semiskilled work with transferable skillsNot disabled
High school graduate or higherUnskilled work or no workNot disabled
High school graduate or higherSkilled or semiskilled work but skills not transferableNot disabled
High school graduate or higherSkilled or semiskilled work with transferable skillsNot disabled
Recent education that provides for direct entry into skilled work (high school graduate or higher)Skilled or semiskilled work whether or not skills are transferableNot disabled

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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