The Impact of Age on Social Security Rules
SSR 82-62 provides the following:
Generally, where an individual of advanced age with no relevant work experience has a limited education or less, a finding of an inability to make a vocational adjustment to substantial work will be made, provided his or her impairment(s) is severe, i.e., significantly limits his or her physical or mental capacity to perform basic work-related functions. In the cases involving individuals of advanced age, the only medical issue is the existence of a severe medically determinable impairment. The only vocational issues are advanced age, limited education or less, and absence of relevant work experience. With affirmative findings of fact, the conclusion would generally follow that the claimant or beneficiary is under a disability. If all the criteria of this medical-vocational profile are not met, the case must be decided on the basis of the principles and definitions in the regulations, giving consideration to the rules for specific case situations in Appendix 2.
The Commissioner faces a heavier burden when denying disability benefits to older claimants. For persons “approaching advanced age” (50-54), the regulations provide that age, in conjunction with a severe impairment and limited work experience, may seriously affect their ability to adjust to significant numbers of jobs in the economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d) (2007).
The Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“the grid”) mandate a finding of “disabled” for persons approaching advanced age, high school education, non-transferable work skills and residual functional capacity for light work activity. (Rule 201.14) Peckham v. Commissioner of Social Sec., Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2008 WL 2714113, E.D.Mich., 2008.
However, for a person closely approaching advanced age with a limited education, the erosive nature of moderate impairments in 10 areas of important aspects of the mental residual functional capacity do far more than narrow the occupational base, they eradicate it.” (JS at 7.) Serna v. Astrue, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2008 WL 5179033, C.D.Cal.,2008.
Although ages 45, 50, 55, and 60 may be considered by some as too sharply defined as points in a progression of increasing difficulties, the concept of adversity of the aging process for severely impaired persons approaching advanced or retirement age is not arbitrary. Where age is critical to a decision, recognition is taken of increasing physiological deterioration in the senses, joints, eye-hand coordination, reflexes, thinking processes, etc., which diminish a severely impaired person’s aptitude for new learning and adaptation to new jobs. 43 Fed.Reg. 55,349, 55,359 (1978); see also Broz, 677 F.2d at 1360.
The rules further direct a decision of “disabled” for individuals age 55 and over who are limited to a full range of sedentary work, unless the individual has transferable skills or education that provides for direct entry into skilled sedentary work. SSR 96-9. In Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273, the 9th Circuit held:
[B]efore the Secretary can find the Plaintiff’s skills transferable to sedentary work, he must show that “very little, if any, vocational adjustment is required.” Thus, in identifying other work a Plaintiff can perform such that she is not disabled, the range of jobs the Secretary can point to narrows substantially when the Plaintiff reaches age fifty-five. The work must be “less demanding” than that previously performed by the Plaintiff at the same time, though, it cannot require so little skill that anyone at all could do it, as older people are at a competitive disadvantage for such jobs.
The law recognizes that seniors face greater challenges in facing disability. The law also recognizes that seniors are at a distinct disadvantage when competing with young employees for jobs.
“Where the Plaintiff is, as in this case, close to retirement age (sixty to sixty-four), there is an additional requirement: the Secretary must find her disabled unless her skills make her “highly marketable” for the sedentary jobs she is capable of doing.” SSR 96-9 In Terry v. Sullivan, 903 F.2d 1273.