I am seeing in more and more of my cases that the Social Security Earnings Record is an issue in and of itself. It isn’t that Social Security is getting it wrong. It is that the individuals have not checked to see that it is right. Having an incorrect earnings record can hurt in many ways. In a SSDI case, a claimant needs to be “insured” (have sufficient quarters of coverage from earnings) in order to be found eligible to collect disability insurance. If your earnings record does not accurately reflect all of your earnings, you may not be considered insured and therefore lose out on a benefit that you might otherwise be eligible for.
In both SSI and SSDI cases, the issue of earnings arises at the first step of the disability evaluation. The adjudicator is required to determine if the claimant is working and if so, to determine whether it is substantial gainful activity. (In 2014, substantial gainful activity is equivalent to earnings of $1070 a month, for a non-blind person.) It is not uncommon in a disability case for a claimant to have stopped working but then again resume working at a reduced level of hours. If the person is making over $1070 a month, he or she is not considered disabled. (There are exceptions to this, of course.) The adjudicator will look to the earnings record as well as other earnings information to make this determination.
The earnings record also comes up at the third step in disability evaluation when the adjudicator is trying to determine what kind of work you did in the past. The adjudicator will look back to the last 15 years. I have now seen cases in which employment was listed that my client did not perform or vice versa, employment was not listed but my client had performed it.