What Is Substantial Gainful Activity?

If you have done any research on getting approved for Social Security disability benefits, it is very likely that you may now have more questions than answers. While requirements for Social Security disability benefits approval are specific, they are also complex and extensive. For instance, did you come across the phrase “substantial gainful activity?” It is likely that you did as this is a prominent feature of determining Social Security disability benefits eligibility.

What is Substantial Gainful Activity? 

In order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must be unable to perform more than a minimal amount of work. More specifically, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that a disability applicant be unable to perform “substantial gainful activity.”  “Substantial gainful activity” is used to describe work activity and earnings levels. “Substantial” work means that it involves performing notable physical, mental, or a combination of physical and mental activity. “Gainful” work is that which is paid for, that which is generally paid for, or that which is intended for profit, even if profit is not realized.

If, when looking at your substantial gainful activity, the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines that you earn more than a certain amount and are engaging in productive work, it is likely that it will be determined that you are engaging in substantial gainful activity and will, therefore, likely be denied disability benefits.

Generally speaking, substantial gainful activity is work that generates a certain dollar amount each month. The SSA will look to see what you are earning and, if you are earning below a certain threshold amount, you will not be automatically denied benefits. In 2021, this amount was $1,310 for non-blind disability applicants and $2,190 for blind disability applicants. Low earnings alone, however, will not prove to the SSA that you cannot engage in substantial gainful activity. The SSA will also look to activities that are volunteer, or even criminal, in nature. If these activities involve substantial work that someone may ordinarily be paid for, the SSA may find that you can, in fact, engage in substantial gainful activity.

Conversely, even those applicants with higher earnings may not automatically be disqualified on the basis of the ability to engage in substantial gainful activity. The applicant must be able to prove that he or she was working under special conditions and that is the reason for the higher earnings. For instance, the claimant may assert that the work required special assistance from other employees, only specially arranged circumstances permitted the ability to engage in the work, frequent rest breaks were allowed, or some other extenuating circumstance allowed the applicant to engage in substantial gainful activity that he or she may have otherwise been unable to engage in.

Disability Attorney

For answers to your disability application questions, turn to us at Roeschke Law. We are not only here to help you understand the Social Security disability process, but also to successfully navigate the process. Contact us today.