What is Substantial Gainful Activity for Social Security Disability?

October 2, 2012

Substantial Gainful Activity for SSD

Substantial Gainful Activity and SSD

An important threshold issue when it comes to the ability to obtain Social Security benefits (SSD or SSDI) is if you can engage or are engaged in “substantial gainful activity.” So the question is, what does this phrase mean?

The Social Security Agency (SSA) describes SGA as, “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.” It also means, “the performance of significant physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit.”

As you can see, unfortunately, the answer to this question is not a straight forward one. The SSA sets financial figures each year as part of its judgment of whether someone is engaged in substantial gainful activity, but the amount of money you make each month isn’t the final word. This year the figure is $1010 per month.

For example, if you are blind the monthly financial figure is higher ($1690.) If you are self employed, the calculation becomes more complicated. And if you are making less than the dollar figure, well that doesn’t mean you aren’t engaging in substantial gainful activity.

Significant Activity

According to Social Security “Significant activities are useful in the accomplishment of a job or the operation of a business and have economic value.” It doesn’t matter if the work is seasonal or part-time, or even if the person is paid less or has less responsibility than in the past.


Gainful means that the work is done (or is usually done) for pay of some kind. Pay means cash, or barter (if you are given something in exchange for the work.)  If you aren’t getting paid, that doesn’t mean you aren’t engaged in substantial gainful activity. You might still be doing so, eliminating your right to obtain benefits.

If you own your own business, even if you aren’t profitable, your work might still be considered a “substantial gainful activity.”

Adding to the complexity, if you are seeking SSI, where the financial requirements are extremely strict, if you even have above a certain amount in the bank, you aren’t eligible for benefits even if you aren’t engaged in substantial gainful activity.

Lack of Clarity is Why You Need an SSD Attorney

Frankly, the determination of whether you are, or can be, engaged in substantial gainful activity is an extremely difficult and confusing process. For help, your best bet is to contact a qualified social security disability attorney.


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