Social Security provides financial assistance for tens of millions of Americans. Although many think of the program as being focused on retirees, there's a wider cross-section of the population that Social Security serves. The facts below come from the most recent summary of the program from the Social Security Administration, and they paint a picture that reveals how important Social Security is for a huge fraction of the total population of the nation.

1. Almost 62 million people receive Social Security benefits.

Social Security paid benefits to 61,859,000 people in November. That's up by almost 1 million recipients just in the past year alone. Demographic trends have more people retiring, and the number of retired workers has risen enough to offset slight declines in those receiving other types of benefits.

2. Retirement benefits go almost exclusively to workers.

Social Security pays retirement benefits both to workers and to eligible family members, but the number of spouses and children whom the SSA reports as getting benefits is low. Fewer than 2.4 million spouses and just 672,000 children get benefits based on their relationship to retired workers. That compares to almost 42.4 million retired workers on Social Security's books. Keep in mind, though, that many spouses get augmented retirement benefits due to their spouse's work history, with their own work record providing only a fraction of their total monthly payout. These recipients get counted as retired workers even though they also collect spousal benefits as part of their monthly checks.

A single Social Security card embedded in a spread-out pile of U.S. cash.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Almost 6 million surviving family members get benefits from Social Security.

More than 4.1 million widows and widowers receive survivor benefits from Social Security, with monthly outlays topping the $5 billion mark. Children of deceased workers make up another 1.9 million, and a very small number of parents of deceased workers qualify for benefits.

4. More than 10 million people get Social Security disability benefits.

In November, 10,427,000 people received benefits through Social Security disability insurance. The vast majority of those were disabled workers, but almost 1.6 million children of disabled parents also collected small benefit checks as well. Only 127,000 spouses qualified to receive disability payments based on a worker's disability, largely because those benefits are restricted to situations in which the spouse is caring for a child under age 16 or disabled.

5. Retirees typically get more than disabled workers.

The average monthly benefit for retired workers is noticeably higher than what disability recipients get. The typical retired worker benefit was $1,375 per month in November 2017. Disabled workers got an average of $1,173 per month. Although disability payment formulas can take into account shorter work histories, length of career still plays a vital role in boosting retirement benefits.

6. Benefits for family members of retirees are a lot higher than benefits for family members of disabled workers.

The disparity is even larger when you look at spouses and children of workers getting Social Security benefits. The typical spousal benefit in November 2017 was $717 per month, with children getting $661 per month. Survivor benefits were even larger, including $1,311 for nondisabled surviving spouses and $840 for children. Spouses and children of disabled workers got just $329 and $358, respectively, on a monthly basis on average.

7. Social Security paid out more than $78 billion in benefits in a single month.

All told, recipients of Social Security received $78,044,000,000 in November 2017. At the current rate of increase, the annual run rate for benefits could top the $1 trillion mark within the next couple of years, reflecting the expansion of the program and the severity of the threat that financial challenges could pose to the program in the future.

Be smart about your Social Security

Social Security is important, and you can't afford to take it for granted. With so many people relying on the program for their financial well-being, you need to be sure that you understand not only what you're entitled to receive but also what could change in the future to reduce your benefits.