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Significance of Earnings

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

620. Significance of Earnings

620.1 Does the amount of your earnings affect whether or not you can do substantial gainful activity?

Your earnings amount during a period of alleged disability may establish that you are able to engage in substantial gainful activity. Substantial earnings generally do so. However, low or no earnings during a period of work activity do not establish your inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. The circumstances under which work is performed are considered.

620.2 What if you must stop working because of the impairment?

If you must stop working after a short time (less than 6 months) because your impairment gets worse or prevents you from working, your earnings will not necessarily demonstrate your ability to engage in substantial gainful activity.

620.3 Does your work in a "sheltered" establishment affect whether or not you can do substantial gainful activity?

If you work under special conditions (e.g., in a sheltered workshop), only the earnings relating to your own efforts are considered. Subsidies based on financial need or other non-work factors are not considered. The fact that a "sheltered" establishment operates at a deficit or receives charitable or governmental aid is not material.

620.4 Can the costs of impairment-related items and services be deducted from your earnings?

The cost of certain impairment-related items and services (e.g., certain attendant care services, medical devices and equipment, prostheses, and similar items and services that are necessary to control your disabling condition) that you pay for and need in order to work are deductible from earnings.

620.5 Are there any earnings criteria that indicate whether or not you are doing substantial gainful activity?

Certain earnings criteria have been established as reasonable indications of whether you are doing substantial gainful activity. In 2008, you are ordinarily considered to be doing substantial gainful activity if your earnings average over $940 or more a month. The monthly substantial gainful activity amount can be adjusted each year based on the national average wage.

(See §603.3 for the special definition of substantial gainful activity applicable to disabled blind individuals.)

Last Revised: Jan. 22, 2008

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There are 4 Comments

March 29 2011
My sister was a victim of domestic violence,in 2007, her husband is in prison. I cannot work due to shoulder surgery 10 months ago,I have been with the same employer for 35yrs. Would I be able to claim survivor benefits through her SSI, for disability? I am the only one left in my family, my mother past away in 2010. I am married and husband works full time.

If your shoulder result in a long-term (continuing) disability, you may qualify for Social Security disability payments based on your work record.

However, survivor benefits based on your mother seem unlikely.

In general, you can receive survivor benefits only if you :

  • are a widow or widower.
  • are a surviving divorced spouse.
  • are a worker's minor or disabled child.

To qualify as a disabled child, in general the disability needed to start before age 22.

Do I qualify if I was born with Spina Bifida and and partial paralized from right arm? I strongly believe thats why I have soo many problems with jobs.

This may be possible, but it depends on the severity of your condition. I would consider applying even if you're "borderline".

Social Security pays only for total disability. No benefits are payable for partial disability or for short-term disability.

To decide whether you are disabled, Social Security uses a step-by-step process involving five questions.

  1. Are you working?
  2. Is your condition "severe"?
  3. Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?
  4. Can you do the work you did previously?
  5. Can you do any other type of work?

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