As we celebrate the 84th anniversary of the enactment of Social Security—and the 63rd anniversary of the addition of its vital disability protections—it is time to recall the contributions that our Social Security system has made to American economic security. Social Security Works for America is a series of reports that provides information about
Social Security’s history, character and vitality, as well as relating compelling, real-life stories. The report includes statistics about the number of people who receive benefits, the types of benefits they receive, and the total amount of funds flowing from Social Security into each state, including its congressional districts. These are just a few of the statistics. Find the full report here and the state reports here.
Before the creation of Social Security, poverty among older Americans was pervasive. In 1934, President Roosevelt’s Committee on Economic Security estimated that “at least one-half” of all Americans aged 65 and older were poor. By 1959, when the Census first began to officially count the poor, poverty among older Americans had declined to 35 percent. Poverty among seniors continued to fall over the course of the 20th century to 25 percent in 1970, then to about 10 percent in 2000, where it has remained since. Research suggests that much of the decline in elderly poverty between 1967 and 2000 can be attributed to expansions in our Social Security system.
In 2018, Social Security paid $989 billion in benefits to nearly 63 million beneficiaries—about 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 3 households. These benefits extend beyond Social Security’s original retirement protections for seniors; today, they include disability and survivors’ protections as well. Over 16 million people under age 65 currently receive Social Security benefits—26 percent of beneficiaries.
The typical benefit received by a retired worker in the United States was $16,656 in 2017. Without Social Security, the elderly poverty rate in the United States would have increased from 1 in 11 (9.2 percent) to 2 in 5 (39.7 percent).