For a variety of reasons, it is becoming harder for an unemployed older worker to find gainful employment, but workers will find it easier to qualify for Social Security disability benefits after 50 years or older. And, because of the aging process and common health problems specific to the U.S., many people over 50 years old have a health problem such as arthritis, heart disease, obesity, depression, or back pain.
Most people suffering from arthritis, for example, would not ordinarily consider themselves to be disabled. If they could find work, or could have kept their former employment, they probably would have made it through the workweek, despite symptoms of pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Most people like to work.
Unemployment and Pain Not Enough
However, simply having a diagnosis or two, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, does not mean a person is likely to be awarded Social Security or SSI disability benefits. Analyzing whether you qualify is complicated.
The Social Security regulations and rulings do give an advantage to workers Social Security disability benefits after 50. How big an advantage is granted depends on a number of factors. One is the amount of education the claimant has. The higher an individual’s education level, the less likely it is that their disability claim can be approved. The judge will often find that this person, while they may not be able to perform any of their past relevant work, because of their education, they can still do something easier physically or mentally.
Another factor the Social Security Administration will review is how skilled a claimant’s past relevant work was, and if that work was skilled or semi-skilled, does the person have skills that would easily transfer to an easier occupation. The older the worker, the lower the amount of vocational adjustment will be expected. So, to be considered a transferable skill for a 55 or 60-year old worker, the skills must match up closely.
And, if an older worker has performed a fairly skilled job that had little lifting, standing or walking, that worker will have a harder time being approved. For a person to be found to be disabled, they generally have to show that they cannot handle any of the jobs they performed in the 15 years prior to the inception of their disability.
It is important that the claimant consider and accurately describe to his or her lawyer and the Social Security Administration exactly what tasks their jobs entailed. Often a person will overlook certain parts of their job. One example is the job of security monitor in loss prevention at a retail establishment. On the face of it, it seems like a sedentary job, one that requires very little in the way of lifting, standing, or walking. But, if asked, the claimant who performed this job may say that all people in loss prevention were expected to do all tasks within that department. So, if the person working on the floor were on break, someone from the monitor room would have to cover for the floor walk. And, in that capacity, they might even be expected to confront or apprehend a suspected shoplifter. So, that is quite a different job from simply monitoring a camera screen.
Physical and Mental Limitations
All claimants should consider and describe to their attorney and the Social Security Administration all of their limitations. Sometimes people forget about things they think are the “small stuff.” But, problems sleeping or side effects from medications might cause the claimant to have daytime drowsiness or to require a daily afternoon nap. That would be significant because all vocational experts will testify that outside of the normal lunch break, a nap, during work hours, would not be tolerated by any employer. Similarly, a person with Chronic Fatigue, M.S., Fibromyalgia, or Depression may miss more than a day of work per month, due to it being the nature of these illnesses for there to be periodic flare-ups.
It is important for the claimant to discuss any learning disability, a history of special education, or illiteracy. Since the older worker has lived with these attributes being with them their entire adult lives, and they’ve worked with these problems, and maybe raised a family, they often don’t think it’s important to mention. But they are critical to the analysis. Details matter.
Some people may think they can’t get Unemployment Insurance Benefits (UIB) and have a claim for Social Security disability benefits. But, with the older worker, that is not necessarily true. It is not inconsistent to tell the State that you could do some type of work, but no one will hire you, and for you to also say you are too disabled to do his or her old job, and that what you can potentially still do is very limited. Only younger workers, those 49 and under, need to show that they are so disabled that they cannot perform even the simplest job.
Of course, if the claimant has a significant, dramatic, or terminal illness or impairment, such as being a double amputee or having metastasized, inoperable cancer, none of these vocational factors will be relevant, but the number of claimants who have a serious enough impairment to meet the Social Security Act’s Listings of Impairments are a very small percentage of people with claims pending at the hearing level.
If approved for Social Security disability benefits (not SSI) you will also be eligible for Medicare, which you would not have ordinarily received until age 65. Other advantages, besides the monthly check, include a reduction in property taxes in most states, and potential eligibility for subsidized housing for the elderly and disabled, energy assistance, a personal assistant, and paratransit services. Lastly, going on Social Security disability benefits after 50 will freeze a worker’s Social Security retirement benefits at their highest level.