At Step One, the SSA looks to see if the claimant is engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). Every year the SGA levels increase to account for cost of living adjustments. The current SGA level is $1220 gross per month for non-blind individuals, and $2,040 for those who are statutorily blind. In laymen’s terms: are you still working, either full-time or part-time? If so, are you earning more than $1220 per month before taxes (gross)? If no, then proceed to Step Two.
At Step Two, the SSA looks to see if the claimant has a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 consecutive months. A severe impairment is one that prevents an individual from being able to perform at least one work-related activity such as sitting, standing, walking, reaching, bending, maintaining concentration, following simple directions, and interacting with co-workers, supervisors, or the public. A non-severe impairment has no more than a minimal impact on an individual’s ability to perform work-related activity. In laymen’s terms: do you have an impairment that interferes with your ability to work that has lasted or is expected to last at least 12 months in a row? If yes, then proceed to Step Three.
At Step Three, the SSA looks to see if the claimant’s impairment is so severe that it meets or medically equals one of SSA’s Listing of Impairments, often referred to as the Blue Book. Some impairments are so severe that they automatically qualify for disability. The list of these impairments and their criteria can be found in the SSA’s Blue Book (add link), officially called “Disability Evaluation under Social Security.” However, it is important to note that only a medical professional is qualified to make the determination as to whether or not an individual’s impairments are severe enough to meet or medically equal a Blue Book Listing, and that in most cases, claimant’s impairments are not severe enough to meet or equal Book Listing. In laymen’s terms: do you have an impairment that is so severe that it satisfies all or most of the criteria listed in the Blue Book’s Listing of Impairments? If yes, then you are automatically found to be disabled. If no, then proceed to Step 4.
At Step Four, the SSA looks to see if the claimant can perform his or her Past Relevant Work (PRW). PRW is defined as all work performed at SGA levels for the past 15 years prior to the alleged onset date or the date your disability began. In order to make this determination, the SSA must define a claimant’s Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). A claimant’s RFC is his or her ability to perform work-related activity despite his or her severe impairments. In laymen’s terms: considering your severe impairments, do you still have the ability to perform any of your work from the past 15 years? If no, then proceed to Step 5.
At Step Five, the SSA has determined that a claimant does not have the RFC to perform any of his or her past relevant work so the burden shifts to the SSA to find other work that a claimant can still perform within the limits of his or her RFC that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. In other words, the work does not have to be local or even within the state in which you live. The SSA just has to find work that exists in “significant numbers” anywhere in the U.S.A. At this step, the SSA considers the claimants remaining work capacity, age, education, work experience, and transferrable skills. The SSA developed the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (add link) or “Grids” to determine whether or not a person has the RFC to perform any other work. In theory, the older a claimant is the easier it is for him or her to be found disabled because he or she does not have the RFC to perform other work. In laymen’s terms: do you have the RFC to perform any other work? If no, then SSA should find that you are disabled.