Space may be the final frontier, but Social Security remains a vastly misunderstood social program that many young adults simply don't understand the importance of.

In 2011, CNN and ORC International conducted a poll (link opens a PDF file) of some 1,010 adults of varying ages to determine their opinion of Social Security as to whether it's been beneficial to them personally, and to determine what their opinion was of the social program going forward. The responses, as you might suspect, were heavily bifurcated between young adults and seniors over age 65.

Here were the results.

Would you say that the Social Security system has been good for you personally, bad for you personally, or has had no effect on you personally?
















No effect





Source: CNN/ORC International. Results may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Which of these statements do you think best describes the Social Security system -- it is in a state of crisis, it has major problems, it has minor problems, or it does not have any problems?











Major problem





Minor problem





No problem





Source: CNN/ORC International. Results may not add to 100% because of rounding.

Most young adults (62%) claim to have had little effect from Social Security personally, since many view it as purely a means to getting paid when retired. This would somewhat be confirmed, with 85% of those aged 65 and older claiming that it's had a positive effect on them. When looking down the road, despite seeing little benefit now, young adults have a fairly dire view of Social Security as a whole (66% see the system as in crisis or having major problems) compared with just 57% of those aged 65 and older ,of which many are already receiving benefits.

That's why today, in an effort to improve Social Security awareness among young adults, I'm providing five incredible Social Security facts that you may not be aware of.

Fact No. 1: Social Security provides a lot more than just retiree benefits.
Most young adults think of Social Security as a system that they pay into only to reap the rewards of a somewhat steady monthly check once they retire. However, this year alone some 58 million people are expected to receive $816 billion worth Social Security disbursements, of which 30% will be for non-retirement benefits.

For one, Social Security provides long-term disability benefits for those under 65. According to statistics from the SSA, about one in four of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching the retirement age of 67.

It also provides benefits to the dependents of deceased workers. The SSA notes that 96% of today's workforce between ages 20 and 49 in 2011 had survivors insurance protection in place for their children and the surviving spouse that cares for the children. About 11% of the projected $816 billion will go to pay survivor benefits this year .

Fact No. 2: Social Security is financed through a dedicated payroll tax that you and your employer pay an equal share of.
You do pay your fair share of taxes to finance the Social Security trust, but so does your employer. With the rollback of the payroll tax exemption in 2013, you and your employer now each equally pay 6.2% of your annual salary, up to a taxable maximum of $113,700, into the Social Security Fund. If you're self-employed, you're in for double-duty, owing 12.4% of your annual pay.

Surprisingly, only 70% of the income collected by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI) (which we collectively refer to as the Social Security Fund) comes from payroll taxes. The remaining OASI income is derived from interest earned on existing income in the fund, taxes levied on OASDI benefits, and reimbursements from the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury. 

Fact No. 3: Social Security is a major source of income for the elderly.
Over the past seven decades, the average life expectancy in the United States has risen by about six years. This means that people are living much longer past their retirement age and could, therefore, be very much in need of an income source. Enter Social Security benefits, stage left.

Based on statistics from June 2013, 88% of those over age 65 were receiving some form of Social Security benefits. That figure could be even higher if we pushed the age range to 70-plus, because the longer you wait to begin making withdrawals after age 62, the higher your monthly stipend will be!

For the elderly, Social Security benefits represent about 39% of their total income. For unmarried seniors, about three-quarters derive more than half of their monthly income from Social Security benefits. These income benefits may not seem beneficial to those of you in your 20s and 30s now, but they are clearly crucial to our aging population. Since life expectancies are only expected to move higher, the importance of Social Security income benefits with the elderly should only be expected to grow as well.

Fact No. 4: Social Security income is especially important for women.
This statement is not in any way a jab at women or a way of saying that men shouldn't care about Social Security. What I aim to point out here is the simple fact that women live longer than men. This means that ensuring the safety of long-term income benefits is especially important for women, given the importance of Social Security income for the elderly as we just discussed.

Also, as noted by the National Academy of Social Insurance, women tend to earn less than men for performing comparable jobs and tasks over their lifetime. The good news here is that lower income individuals who receive SSA benefits often see a smaller reduction in pay relative to their average annual salary compared with those who made an average that would equal the taxable maximum (currently $113,700). In other words, women are in for less of a paycheck shock when they begin receiving their Social Security disbursements compared to their male counterparts if the National Academy of Social Insurance is correct. 

Fact No. 5: The Social Security Trust Fund is currently on pace to be out of money by 2033.
Oh yeah, and one other tidbit: The current Social Security Fund income disbursement rate is unsustainable and should be completely out of money by 2033, or at least unable to sustain ongoing payouts to all eligible beneficiaries. 

As baby boomers begin to hit retirement age, we are going to see a dramatic increase in the number of retirees pulling out Social Security distributions to counteract what I imagine have been steep losses from the stock market crash in 2008-2009. The result is that the workers-to-retirees ratio is going to continue to drop and the system will simply not be bringing in enough income to support the amount it's obligated to pay out. In 1955 there were about eight workers for every beneficiary; today that figure is down to just 2.8 workers for every beneficiary and should drop further to just 2.1 workers per beneficiary by 2030.

Is there a genuine plan to fix the massive income shortfall? Not quite, but numerous ideas have been floated around, including higher levels of taxation.