How does Social Security assess my ability to work?


Social Security will only grant disability benefits if a claimant is unable to earn a “substantial, gainful employment,” meaning earnings of $1,170 or more (in 2017) per month (for non-blind individuals). The disability examiner will look at your most recent jobs performed in the last 15 years and will attempt to match your work history with jobs listed in a “dictionary of occupational titles (DOT).” They will attempt to match jobs not only based on titles but on the required skills, exertional requirements, and the duties performed.

Should the examiner find that 1. Your condition is severe enough to last a year and 2. Your condition limits you from engaging in substantial gainful employment, they will next consider whether your limitations prevent you from going back to your last job, or any other previous jobs held in the last 15 years. To deny you disability benefits, Social Security only has to find that you are capable of going back to ONE of the jobs you held in the last 15 years.

It is extremely important to be as specific as possible about your previous jobs. Don’t leave any guesswork to the representatives reviewing your claim. Also remember to give the exertional requirements of each job – especially physically exertion. Social Security classifies work abilities in exertional categories – sedentary, light, medium, heavy, and very heavy. Always mention how much weight (if any) you were required to carry, and/or other physical requirements of the job.