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Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) means the performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit, regardless of the legality of the work. SSA evaluates the work activity of persons claiming or receiving disability benefits under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and/or claiming benefits because of a disability (other than blindness) under Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Under both programs, SSA uses earnings guidelines to evaluate work activity to decide whether the work activity is substantial gainful activity and whether the individual is considered disabled under the law.

If the individual’s average monthly countable earnings (taking into consideration any work incentives) are more than the SGA amount (i.e. $1000 per month for non-blind individual in 2011 and $1,640 for blind individuals), the individual has engaged in SGA. If the individual’s average monthly countable earnings are equal to or less than the SGA amount, then generally the individual has not engaged in SGA.

NOTE: For Title II beneficiaries, SSA counts the gross monthly income earned in the calendar month, rather than what was received, based on pay dates.

It is important to note that prior to January of 2001 the $700 non-blind SGA level established in July of 1999 was not automatically adjusted annually as was the case for individuals who were blind. Effective January 2001, SSA eliminated the secondary SGA level of $300 and began adjusting annually the SGA amount for people with impairments other than blindness. The guideline would be the larger of the previous year's amount or an increased amount based on the Social Security national average wage index. Table 1 highlights the changes in the SGA amount over the years.

Table 1: Substantial Gainful Activity Amounts

2011 $1000
2010 $1000
2009 $980
2008 $940
2007 $900
2006 $860
2005 $830
2004 $810
2003 $800
2001 $740
2000 $700
7 to 12/1999 $700
1 to 6/1999 $500
1990 to 1998 $500
1980 to 1989 $300
1979 $280
1978 $260
1977 $240
1976 $230
Prior to 1976 $200

For years beginning 1978, if a person is blind, the law provides different earnings guidelines for determining SGA. The SGA amounts for blind people are:

2011 $1640
2010 $1640
2009 $1640
2008 $1570
2007 $1500
2006 $1450
2005 $1380
2004 $1350
2003 $1330
2002 $1300
2001 $1240
2000 $1170
1999 $1110
1998 $1050
1997 $1000
1996 $960
1995 $940
1994 $930
1993 $880
1992 $850
1991 $810
1990 $780
1989 $740
1988 $700
1987 $680
1986 $650
1985 $610
1984 $580
1983 $550
1982 $500
1981 $459
1980 $417
1979 $375
1978 $334



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