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Definition of Substantial Gainful Activity

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at

603. Definition of Substantial Gainful Activity

603.1 What does "substantial gainful activity" mean?

The term "substantial gainful activity" is used to describe a level of work activity and earnings.

Work is "substantial" if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both.

"Gainful" work activity is either of the following:

  1. Work performed for pay or profit;

  2. Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or

  3. Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.

603.2 Does work need to be performed on a full-time basis to be considered "substantial gainful activity?"

No. For work activity to be substantial, it does not need to be performed on a full-time basis. Work activity performed on a part-time basis may also be substantial gainful activity. (See §§618-621.)

603.3 Is there a different definition of "substantial gainful activity" for blind people?

Yes. A special definition of "substantial gainful activity" applies to individuals disabled by blindness. These individuals are considered to be performing substantial gainful activity if their earnings are higher than $1640 a month for 2010. (see §617.2)

NOTE: If you are statutorily blind you do not need to show the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity to establish a period of disability (see §617).

Last Revised: Nov. 16, 2010


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