BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Social Security lifted 22 million people out of poverty last year, our new analysis of Census data finds. Social Security’s anti-poverty effect extends to every state, lifting more than 1 million elderly people out of poverty in California, Florida, and Texas, our 50-state analysis shows.
Without Social Security benefits, 41 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes below the official poverty line, all else being equal. With Social Security, only 9 percent do. (See graph.)
Social Security is also important for non-elderly adults and children. (See table.) It lifted more than 1 million children from poverty in 2015. Some of these children receive benefits because a parent died, became disabled, or retired; others live with relatives who receive Social Security.
Given the program’s powerful anti-poverty impact, cuts in Social Security benefits could significantly raise poverty — particularly among the elderly and the disabled — depending on their design.
Social Security benefits are already modest, both in dollar terms (the average retired worker receives $1,328 a month) and by international standards. Also, elderly Americans depend heavily on their Social Security benefits — particularly women and minorities. A third of beneficiaries receive at least 90 percent of their income from Social Security; 61 percent of beneficiaries receive more than 50 percent of their income from the program.
While policymakers should work to close Social Security’s long-term funding gap, they should remember that this program is a vital part of the safety net for Americans of all ages.
|Effect of Social Security on Poverty, 2015|
|Age Group||Percent in Poverty||Number Lifted Out of Poverty By Social Security|
|Excluding Social Security||Including Social Security|
|Children Under 18||21.2%||19.7%||1,078,000|
|Adults Ages 18-64||15.4%||12.4%||5,944,000|
|Elderly Age 65 And Over||40.5%||8.8%||15,067,000|
|Total, All Ages||20.5%||13.5%||22,090,000|
Source: CBPP, based on data from the Census Bureau Current Population Survey, March 2016