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OLDER WORKING AMERICANS FACING A TOUGH ECONOMY ARE TURNING TO SOCIAL SECURITY

June 11, 2012

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The Sunday New York Times reported on the how the present economy is causing some workers to take - albeit reluctantly - early retirement. Social Security allows citizens to claim Social Security benefits at age 62. However, this results in a lifetime decreased benefit. The decreased benefit is significant, at twenty percent less than what one would receive if he/she had waited to retire at 65. Financial planners always encourage healthy workers to work past early retirement, and even delay retirement to age 67 if at all possible. The extra working years add to needed nest eggs and also allow for a higher benefit.

The dilemma faced by Clare Keany, in the Times article, and many in her personal situation, is when working older adults (usually over 50) lose a job in today's economy. Older adults frequently have more trouble than younger workers replacing a job. Add in a chronic health condition requiring job site accommodations and older workers face nearly insurmountable challenges. For workers in the their fifties with a severe impairment, a Social Security disability claim may be the best available safety net.

The five-step analysis in a Social Security disability claim is as follows:

  • Are you working?

  • Do you have a severe impairment?

  • Do you have a severe impairment that meets an SSA medical listing?

  • Can you perform past relevant work?

  • Is there other work in the regional or national economy that you can perform?

    Many claims at the hearing level will turn on Step Five in the sequential analysis review. Social Security may provide its own vocational expert to testify about jobs in the economy that an impaired worker could perform. Thus, while the evidence burden is on Social Security at this level, rebutting this testimony turns on proving the jobs described do not exist and/or if they did the claimant could not perform them.

    Some economists evaluating the current state of the national economy suggest that America is having a jobless recovery. In other words, while the Dow Jones is improving (suggesting investors trust the market to return well on their investments), the unemployment index remains stuck. In a separate article, the New York Times reports that this is the first time in a half century that Americans are earning less and are worth less. . Americans who lost their jobs had steep earnings cuts and saw their home equity fall dramatically at the same time. Americans who held onto their jobs did so without wage expected increases. According to the Times report, Americans earn less now than they did six years ago.

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