As of November, according to a snapshot provided by the Social Security Administration, almost 62 million people were receiving a monthly benefit from the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust. For many, this payment isn't just icing on the cake during their golden years, but a much-needed source of income that's relied upon to make ends meet and keep folks out of poverty.
For decades, Social Security has had three purposes -- all of which revolve around providing a financial foundation for those who may not be otherwise able to do so for themselves. Let's take a closer look at them.
1. To provide a financial foundation for low- and middle-income retired workers
First and foremost, Social Security was created to provide a financial foundation for lower-income workers who'd worked hard throughout their lives but would otherwise not be able to take care of themselves financially during retirement, when they no longer had the means to generate wage income.
According to an analysis conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Social Security, elderly poverty rates for retired workers would be more than four times higher without this guaranteed monthly stipend. The CBPP determined that the elderly poverty rate with Social Security income was a mere 8.8%, compared to the estimated 40.5% that it would be if Social Security income didn't exist.
On average, retired workers were receiving $1,375 a month as of November 2017. However, a 2% cost-of-living adjustment that was passed along at the beginning of this year is likely to push the average monthly payout to just north of $1,400 for the 42.4 million retirees currently receiving a monthly payout.
2. To protect workers in the event of a long-term disability
Though it wasn't included in the initial iteration of the Social Security Act that was signed into law back in 1935, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in August 1956 ensured that folks who suffered long-term disabilities, and who were eligible for Social Security benefits through lifetime work credits, were properly taken care of, financially.
According to statistics from the Social Security Administration, approximately 90% of working Americans between the ages of 21 and 64 are protected in the event of a long-term disability, which is probably a good thing since statistics show that more than a quarter of today's workers in their 20s will endure a long-term disability. Whereas retired workers need to earn 40 lifetime work credits to qualify for benefits, a staggered lifetime work credit scale exists for younger workers who may not have had the time or experience to reach 40 lifetime work credits, allowing them to qualify for disability benefits.
As of November, a shade over 10.4 million people were receiving disability benefits, with the average payout working out to almost $1,039 a month.
3. To provide financial protection to the survivors and/or dependents of a deceased worker
Social Security is also tasked with protecting those closest to a qualifying worker who passes away. This can include the spouse of a deceased worker, as well as his or her dependents. The protection of dependents and survivors was added to the Social Security Act by President Roosevelt in August 1939, just four years after the Social Security Act was initially signed into law.
Data from the Social Security Administration shows that roughly 96% of workers between the ages of 20 and 49 have survivors insurance protection for their young children or spouse in case of an untimely death. It's worth pointing out that survivor benefits exist to replace a spouse's benefits if, and only if, the survivor benefit of the deceased spouse is higher than what the surviving spouse would receive from his or her own work and earnings history.
As of November, nearly 6 million people received a survivor payout that averaged about $1,129 a month.
One thing Social Security was never designed to be
Providing a financial floor for retired workers and protecting the disabled and survivors are the primary purposes of Social Security. What it was never intended to do was act as a primary source of income for retirees.
Right now, 62% of retired workers who are receiving a monthly stipend from Social Security lean on that payout for at least half of their monthly income. Just over a third (34%) count on Social Security to provide between 90% and 100% of their monthly income. By comparison, the Social Security Administration suggests that the program is designed to replace about 40% of the average worker's wages. This percentage might be a tad higher for lower-income workers, and a bit lower for higher-income workers, but it serves as a guide to point to one simple conclusion: Social Security isn't meant to be a primary income source.
These figures are particularly worrisome given that the Social Security Board of Trustees' 2017 report suggests that the program could completely exhaust its asset reserves by 2034. Mind you, this doesn't mean Social Security is going bankrupt -- the payroll tax on working Americans ensures that money keeps coming in to be disbursed to beneficiaries. However, it does suggest the current payout schedule is unsustainable. The report goes on to forecast an across-the-board reduction in payouts of up to 23% to ensure the solvency of the Social Security through the year 2091 if no additional revenue is generated prior to 2034.
Long story short, make sure Social Security isn't your Plan A in retirement. Formulate and stick to a budget, save what you can, and invest for your future so these worrisome statistics don't apply to you.