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  • Christopher Le

Why Is It Tougher To Get Approved For Social Security Disability When You’re Under Age 50?

Being under the age of 50 will definitely make it much harder for someone to win their claim as opposed to someone older. However, there are ways to increase your chances of being approved.

First, its important to understand the two main ways of getting approved for benefits.

Meet or Equal a Medical Listing

One of the sequential steps within the Social Security Administration (SSA) analysis is whether your impairment meets the requirements of one of the medical conditions set forth in its “listing of impairments”, AKA listings. Certain illnesses are so severe that the SSA will automatically approve for disability as long as the requirements of the listing are met.

If you meet the requirements of a listing, age wont matter, you automatically get approved for disability benefits. However, being able to meet a listing is very rare and can be difficult because of the detailed and specific requirements needed to meet a listing.

Similar to having a condition that meets a listing is having a medical condition that's listed on the "Compassionate Allowances List." Some medical conditions are so severe that the SSA will award disability immediately, regardless of age.


If you don’t meet a listing, another way to be approved for social security disability is by falling within the grid rules. The grid rules are a series of tables (which looks like grids) the SSA uses to determine if a claimant is disabled. But in order to qualify within the grid rules, SSA considers the claimant’s age, education, skill level of past work, and his or her current residual functional capacity. Even if you can potentially perform a sit down job, depending on your age, education and past work experience, you could potentially GRID. However, if a person is under the age of 50, the grids are usually not helpful because they likely result in a finding of “not disabled.”

However, there is actually one scenario where the grid rules apply to a person younger than 50 years old. This scenario is where a claimant is between ages 45 and 49, is only able to perform a sit down job, is illiterate, and hasn't worked in the last 15 years or maybe they have work, but they’ve only done unskilled work. So for example, let’s take a 45 year old man, who worked as a laborer picking fruits. This work is generally classified as unskilled. Additionally, let’s assume did not complete high school and had never learned to read or write. If he filed for disability based on a spinal problem and diabetes, and its found by SSA that he can perform at most a sit down job, the grid rules would direct a finding of disabled.

Challenging the Grid Finding of "Not Disabled"

For many of those individuals between ages 18-49, the grids won’t apply to them and it will direct a finding of "not disabled." But this isn't the end all be all. A grid finding is can be challenged and beaten if you argue your case well. Hiring an experienced lawyer can help with that. Below are some ways to show that a grid finding of "not disabled" should not apply to you.

Non-Exertional Impairments

After SSA reviews your medical records, they will determine what level of work you can do by looking at your exertional limitations. This is what’s calls your residual functional capacity (RFC). That is, limitations that affect your ability to do strength-related work activities such as:

  • lifting

  • carrying

  • pushing

  • pulling

  • standing

  • walking, or

  • sitting

Its different for those claiming non exertional limitations such as those suffering only from mental illness. If non exertional limitations are a large part of why you're filing for disability, the RFC levels and grids don't apply in the same way. Non-exertional impairments are those that impact your ability to do non-strength-related physical activities or mental activities, such as using your fingers, bending, stooping, following directions, or getting along with coworkers, supervisors or the public. If you have a non-exertional impairment that relates to your mental disability, the SSA will prepare a mental RFC.

The SSA will then have to consider how the combined effects of your non-exertional impairments impacts your ability to do work related activities. Many times, a claimant, who may only suffer from mental illness, has the ability to perform the physical requirements of a job but isn’t able to perform other tasks such as following directions, interacting with others, using hands and fingers, or bending and stooping. Having severe limitations in these areas can result in an approval regardless of the claimant's residual functional capacity.

Arguing A Less than Sedentary RFC

If you can't do sedentary work, which is essentially a sit down job where you are sitting the majorirt of the day, SSA is likely to consider you disabled regardless of your age. Many lawyers will argue a less than sedentary RFC in cases where the GRIDS may not apply. For example, you might be able to argue that you are unable to do sedentary work if you suffer from a condition that causes:

  • the need to change positions between sitting and standing frequently or constantly

  • the inability to stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl

  • frequent hospitalization or absenteeism, and/or

  • the inability to follow instructions and complete simple tasks in a timely manner

These are just a few, but if you can prove you are unable to even do a sit-down job aka a sedentary job, Social Security will likely approve your claim. To learn more about this please speak to an attorney.

Combination of Impairments

Many of those filing for social security disability suffer from various medical conditions. If you suffer from more than one medical condition that limits you, then SSA will consider the combined effects of all your medical conditions when preparing your RFC. If you have at least one severe impairment, such as a back problem or neuropathy for example, SSA must consider how any non-severe impairments, such as high blood pressure, can further limit your ability to work. The combined impact of a severe and non-severe impairment can push your RFC down a level or maybe prevent you from doing a full range of work within your RFC.

Borderline Age

If you are about 6 months away or less from turning 50 and would be approved for benefits based on using the GRID rules for those ages 50-54, you can make a request that the SSA use the older age grid. The SSA will decide whether to do this on a case by case basis.

Getting an Attorney's Help

If you are in the age groups of 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, your case will be tougher and you will have an uphill battle getting disability benefits. As stated throughout this article, age does play a factor and the younger you are, the more difficult it will be. Because of the difficulty younger individuals face in getting approved, it's advised to consult or hire an experienced social security disability attorney.

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