What Is Social Security Disability?

By Joseph Nicholson

According to government statistics, a 20-year-old worker has a roughly 30 percent chance of becoming disabled before reaching retirement age. The social security system is not designed to function like a savings account, where people are eligible to receive back what they've paid in, but disability benefits are figured based on employment history and favor older workers who've paid for social security taxes longer.

Function

The purpose of Social Security Disability is provide financial support to those who working individuals who've paid into the Social Security system, but have become seriously disabled and can no longer work. Because many employees have dependents including spouses and children, these benefits are designed to mitigate the financial hardship that confronts families when a breadwinner can no longer work gainfully.

Features

Social Security pays benefits to qualified persons who can't work because of a serious medical condition that's expected to last a year or more, or that might result in death. No money is available to people with short-term or partial disability. Additionally, individuals over 31 must have worked for five out of the last ten years prior to the disability, and must have worked a cumulative total of at least two years, depending on age.

Types

Many different impairments are listed in the Social Security code as potentially qualifying disabilities. These include high blood pressure, asthma, arthritis and heart failure. Certain disabling mental conditions, like clinical depression, can also qualify an individual for disability benefits. In all cases, the standard for disability is a person's inability to earn, and qualifying impairments require documentation from medical professionals.

Considerations

Just because a person is no longer able to perform the work they did prior to their disability, does not mean they are entirely disabled and unable to work. If they are capable of performing other gainful work, they will be expected to do so, and will not receive benefits if they can earn above the Substantial Gainful Activity threshold, which was $940 per month in 2008. When assessing a person's ability to perform other work, certain considerations such as their level of education, mental state and physical capacities are taken into account, so that expectations remain realistic. Less restrictive requirements apply to the blind.

Benefits

The amount of monthly Social Security Disability benefits will depend directly upon an individual's employment history. The Social Security Statement mailed out each year lists the amount of monthly benefits to which an individual is entitled. In some cases, an individual may not qualify for the full amount if they are already receiving worker's compensation or other government disability benefits. Also, no one with outstanding felony arrest warrants is eligible to receive disability benefits.

About the Author

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.