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  • Writer's pictureJustin S. Raines

How do I prove that I’m disabled at step five? What is other work?

Updated: May 15, 2021

When you’re applying for Social Security disability benefits, if you can’t perform any past relevant work at step four of the five-step sequential analysis, you move onto the fifth and final step. Step five asks whether there is any other work that the claimant can perform that exists in significant numbers in the regional or national economy.

When answering this question, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must consider the impact of a claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), age, education, and work experience.

If there is other work that a claimant can perform, then the claimant is found to be not disabled. If the claimant can’t perform any other work, then the claimant is found disabled and wins.

What other work are we talking about? Any work that exists in significant numbers in the regional or national economy that the claimant has the knowledge, skills, and physical and mental ability to perform will qualify. Does it matter if it pays less than the claimant’s past relevant work? No. Does it matter if the claimant might need to move to find that kind of work? This is debatable, but in general, no. If it seems like this is a difficult standard to meet, it can be.

What is a significant number of jobs in the national or regional economy? In 2019, there were around 155.76 million jobs in the United States. But SSA regulations and rulings never clearly say what number is significant. This issue is dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Every Social Security disability case is different. Every person who applies has different limitations, degrees of education, and work history. The jobs that might be available to one person who is highly skilled or educated may not be available to another person.

There are also special rules, called the Medical Vocational Guidelines or Grids, that can help older people win their cases. The Grids are based on the idea that a person is less able to learn new job skills the older the person gets.

Someone who is older than the age of fifty years is considered less able to learn new jobs skills to adapt to other work than a younger person. Someone who is older age fifty-five is considered less able to learn new job skills than someone who is fifty years old. Someone who is age sixty is considered less able to learn new jobs skills than someone who is fifty-five years old, and so on.

Each of the Grids depends, in part, on a person’s ability to perform physically, using the person’s strength for sitting, standing, walking, lifting, pushing, or pulling. The Grids refer to one of four exertional (strength) categories of work—sedentary, light, medium, or heavy. In general, the older a person is and the lower their ability to exert strength, the easier it is to get disability benefits.

There is a special rule for the so-called “worn-out worker,” someone who has little education and a lengthy history of hard labor—unskilled, arduous work. A worn-out worker is considered less able to learn new job skills, so it is easier to prove that the worker could not adjust to other work.

There is also a special rule for people who are at least fifty-five years old, who have a limited education, and who have no past relevant work experience. For people who fall into this exceptional category, the SSA will not even determine their RFC. They will be awarded disability benefits.

Unfortunately, there are no Grids to deal with solely mental impairments and mental limitations. Does this seem unfair? There are many lawyers who agree and who have fought to change these rules to make it more fair for people who suffer from severe mental illness or injury but who do not have strength limitations.

If you have a severe physical or mental illness or injury, you should consult with an attorney experienced in Social Security disability for help and advice proving your case.

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