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Substantial Gainful Activity

Prior to awarding Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) will evaluate whether the claimant is performing substantial gainful activity (SGA) and whether they have a medically determinable impairment.


To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA.

The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person's disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals.

For non-blind individuals, the monthly SGA amount for 2011 is $1,000. For 2012, the amount will be $1,010. The monthly SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals for 2011 is $1,640. For 2012, this amount will be $1,690. Note: There are other more restrictive rules that apply for SSI.

What is substantial work activity according to the SSA?

Substantial work activity is work activity that involves doing significant physical or mental activities. Your work may be substantial even if it is done on a part-time basis or if you do less, get paid less, or have less responsibility than when you worked before.

What is gainful work activity according to the SSA?

Gainful work activity is work activity that you do for pay or profit. Work activity is gainful if it is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized.

Generally, the Social Security Administration does not consider activities like taking care of yourself, household tasks, hobbies, therapy, school attendance, club activities, or social programs to be substantial gainful activity. Although it is possible for the SSA consider some activities substantial even if you are not receiving a profit.

What is a Medically Determinable Impairment?

A medically determinable physical or mental impairment is an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. A physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings-not only by the individual's statement of symptoms.

To be found disabled, an individual must have a medically determinable "severe" physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that meets the duration requirement. An impairment or combination of impairments is considered "severe" if it significantly limits an individual's physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities; an impairment(s) that is "not severe" must be a slight abnormality (or a combination of slight abnormalities) that has no more than a minimal effect on the ability to do basic work activities.

The evaluation of a disability requires documentation of a medically determinable impairment(s), consideration of the degree of limitation such impairment(s) may impose on the individual's ability to work, and consideration of whether these limitations have lasted or are expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.

The actual duration of many impairments subject to improvement is directly related to the therapeutic regimen administered by the treating physician. An individual with a disabling impairment which is amenable to treatment that would be expected to restore the ability to work would meet the duration requirement if he or she is undergoing therapy prescribed by treatment sources, but disability, nevertheless, has lasted, or can be expected to last, for at least 12 continuous months.

A finding of a medically not severe impairment or combination of impairments is the conclusion that the individual's ability to engage in SGA is not serious affected. If the assessment shows the individual to have the physical and mental abilities necessary to perform such activities, no evaluation of past work (or of age, education, work experience) is needed.

Rather, it is reasonable to conclude, based on the minimal impact of the impairment(s), that the individual is capable of engaging in SGA.

It must be determined whether medical evidence establishes an impairment or combination of impairments "of such severity" as to be the basis of a finding of inability to engage in any SGA.

An impairment or combination of impairments is found "not severe" and a finding of "not disabled" is made when medical evidence establishes only a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work even if the individual's age, education, or work experience were specifically considered (i.e., the person's impairment(s) has no more than a minimal effect on his or her physical or mental abilities to perform basic work activities). Thus, even if an individual were of advanced age, had minimal education, and a limited work experience, an impairment found to be not severe would not prevent him or her from engaging in SGA.



TERMS related to substantial gainful activity

Marked - A standard for measuring the degree of limitation, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. "Marked" is not defined by a specific number of activities of daily living in which functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you do a wide range of activities of daily living, it may still find that you have a marked limitation in your daily activities if you have serious difficulty performing them without direct supervision, or in a suitable manner, or on a consistent, useful, routine basis, or without undue interruptions or distractions

Work Credits and Disability - understand more about working and disability benefits.


Do you have more questions regarding substantial gainful activity and collecting disability? If this page or our disability questions page has not given you the answers you need, complete the Free Case Evaluation and a Disability advocate will contact you.