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Everyone Has a Stake in Social Security

August 12, 2016 at 11:30 AM

Social Security’s upcoming 81st birthday this Sunday is a cause for celebration.  Americans love Social Security: Large majorities say they value it for themselves, their families, and millions of others who count on it.

And all Americans have a stake in its continued success, as we explain in our recently updated Top Ten Facts About Social Security.

  • Workers.  Nearly all American workers contribute to the system, thus protecting themselves and their families — not just with Social Security’s well-known retirement benefits, but with its equally crucial disability insurance and life insurance protection, in case a severe illness or injury, or a premature death, cuts their careers short.
  • Seniors.  Social Security’s earned benefits dramatically reduce elderly poverty.  Without Social Security benefits, more than 40 percent of Americans aged 65 and older would have incomes below the poverty line, all else being equal.  With benefits, 10 percent do (see chart).  The program lifts 14.5 million elderly Americans out of poverty.
  • Minorities.  Social Security is a particularly important source of income for groups with low earnings and less opportunity to save and earn pensions, especially African Americans and Latinos.  Among beneficiaries aged 65 and older, Social Security represents at least 90 percent of income for 52 percent of Hispanics, 45 percent of African Americans, and 41 percent of Asian Americans, compared with 32 percent of whites.
  • Women.  Because they tend to live longer than men and to have lower earnings, women benefit disproportionately from the program’s inflation-protected benefits, its progressive formula for computing benefits, and its benefits for spouses and survivors.
  • Children.  More than 6 million children under age 18 lived in families that received income from Social Security in 2014, and the program’s benefits lifted 1.1 children out of poverty.

Social Security can pay full benefits for the next nearly two decades, but it faces a significant — though manageable — long-term funding shortfall.  (For more on Social Security’s trust funds, read our updated backgrounder here.)  Policymakers should strengthen Social Security for the millions of Americans who have worked hard to earn its protection for themselves and their families.  

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