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Understanding Social Security Law: Evaluating Work Ability in Disability Determination

Updated: Jan 8

When seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), it is important to understand how your ability to work is evaluated. Contrary to popular belief, the SSA does not solely focus on your past job when determining disability. This article aims to clarify the evaluation process for individuals under the age of 50 and those over the age of 50 when it comes to assessing work capacity.

Evaluation for Individuals Under the Age of 50

If you are under the age of 50, the SSA evaluates your ability to perform any work available in the national economy. They consider jobs that meet specific criteria, typically referred to as sedentary jobs. Sedentary work involves tasks performed while sitting and working with things rather than people. The job should have limited interaction with the public, occasional interaction with supervisors or coworkers (up to 1/3 of the workday), and consist of one to two-step tasks that do not require significant memory or cause undue stress. Additionally, it should not involve heavy lifting, and there may be an option to alternate between sitting and standing.

In this case, the burden of proof rests on the individual. They must demonstrate that they are unable to perform a job that aligns with the sedentary criteria described above. The focus is on showing that their specific limitations prevent them from engaging in such work.

Evaluation for Individuals Over the Age of 50

For individuals over the age of 50 who have never performed a sedentary job or lack transferable skills for such a job, the burden of proof is somewhat easier. In this case, the individual must demonstrate that they are unable to perform a similar job that shares similar physical or cognitive requirements. For example, if they previously worked in a physically demanding job that involved significant lifting and can no longer lift heavy objects, they must show that they are unable to find employment that requires less lifting.

While the evaluation process is more complex than described here, it is important to note that the SSA does not solely focus on the exact work performed in the past when determining disability. The burden of proof lies in demonstrating the inability to perform other types of work in the national economy based on one's limitations and capabilities.


Understanding how the Social Security Administration evaluates work ability is crucial when applying for disability benefits. Regardless of age, the SSA assesses an individual's capacity to engage in work activities based on specific criteria. For individuals under the age of 50, the evaluation encompasses any sedentary job in the national economy, while those over the age of 50 may need to prove the inability to perform a similar job with similar requirements.

By grasping these principles, individuals can navigate the disability determination process more effectively and present their case with clarity and confidence.

©2023 Noel Anschutz / Professional Advocates, Inc.

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