Millions of Americans rely on Social Security for their well-being in retirement. But when you look at data from the Social Security Administration, you can see a correlation between the state of the U.S. economy and when people claim their Social Security benefits, in that people tend to take benefits earlier when times are tough but wait longer when times are good. That alarming link has implications for retirees that can last the rest of their lives.

In the following video, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, takes a closer look at this link between Social Security and the U.S. economy. Dan notes that taking benefits early in a recession makes short-term sense, as it gives you much-need money at exactly the time that you need it. But Dan also points out that the sacrifices involved in making that decision are huge, as it means you'll permanently accept lower income both for yourself and for your spouse and survivors even if times get better. Dan concludes that the better choice is to make your Social Security benefits decision based on overall long-term finances rather than on the current condition of the economy, although he admits that not everyone has the luxury of following that course of action.

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Dan Caplinger and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.