The Social Security Administration uses the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation to determine whether you are sufficiently disabled for either or both of the two types of Social Security disability benefits available. The five questions listed in the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation can be summarized as:
- Are you already working and earning “enough” money ($1,070/month in the year 2014)?
- Is your condition severe enough to interfere with work-related activities?
- Is your condition found in a medical listing?
- Can you return to the lightest job you held in the past 15 years?
- Is there another job the national economy you could do?
We would like to focus on this final question, “Is there a job in the national economy you could do?” Applicants who have made it to question 5 are optimistic, as their condition has been considered severe enough to “pass” all the previous criteria. Making it past question 5, however, can be difficult.
You, your attorney, and the VE must all agree that there is absolutely no job in the national economy you are able to perform. If you are unable to return to the lightest job you held in the past 15 years, the Social Security Administration will take into account your age, your skills, your education and training, and your residual functional capacity (RFC) that helps answer questions such as “How long can you stand for?” or “How much weight can you lift consistently?” etc.
While evaluating potential jobs, the Social Security Administration does not take into consideration the location of the potential jobs, the wages of the potential jobs, or whether you would actually be hired for such jobs. If you can perform a certain job with your limitations, you are not considered disabled. Even if no one will hire you or there are no job openings for that specific position, you will not be awarded benefits if you are proven to be capable of performing the job.
The wages of the potential jobs also do not matter to the SSA. Before your disability, your income may have been $10,000, $60,000, or $100,000 a year. When the SSA considers jobs that you could hold, the salary is irrelevant. Minimum wage jobs are considered equal to jobs where you could potentially make six figures (although it is unlikely that the SSA would find a job for you where you would make $100,000+). Whether or not you believe you could live on the income from your potential job makes no difference to the Social Security employees evaluating your case—they are simply looking for any and every job you would be capable of doing.
According to the Troutman & Troutman Attorneys at Law website, one of the few things that is on your side during the Five-Step process is age:
“One of the factors considered at step five is your age. The law recognizes that it is more difficult for us to learn new skills as we get older. For example, the law recognizes that a person who is over 50 years of age would have difficulty learning new skills that would be required for many sedentary jobs, such as computer skills. Therefore, if a claimant is over 50, and the claimant is limited to performing jobs that are classified as ‘sedentary’ jobs, the claimant would be found disabled if he or she does not already have any skills that would enable him or her to perform some of those sedentary jobs. Sedentary jobs are generally those jobs that don’t require lifting more than 10 pounds and don’t require standing more than 2 hours total in an 8-hour day . . . In other words, the law clearly makes it easier for a person to be found to be disabled after that person reaches age 50.”
For more information about the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation and applying for disability benefits, click here.