Each month, more than 62 million people receive a Social Security benefit -- and this figure is only expected to grow as time marches on. That's because Social Security is a program that's expected to cover 175 million workers as well as existing beneficiaries this year. As the labor force increases in size, so does Social Security's long-term influence.
It's also responsible for keeping more than 22 million people above the federal poverty level each year, according to an analysis conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities back in 2016. This is why it's arguably America's most important social program.
A snapshot of the average Social Security beneficiary
But what you may not know, given the program's broad reach, is what the average Social Security beneficiary looks like. Here are three metrics that'll help define the typical recipient.
1. Who is primarily receiving benefits?
First of all, you need to realize that Social Security does more than you probably realize. In addition to building a financial foundation for retired workers and their families, it also provides benefits to the long-term disabled, and to survivors (such as a spouse) in instances where an eligible worker passes away. This is why there are an estimated 175 million working Americans covered today, as well as 62.5 million people currently receiving a monthly check.
But when discussing who the primary beneficiary is for Social Security, there's no doubt it's retired workers. As of June 2018, based on a recent Social Security Administration snapshot of the program, 43.1 million beneficiaries, or 69% of total recipients, were retired workers. Another nearly 3.1 million people (spouses and children) were also receiving benefits based on the earnings history of a retired worker.
Furthermore, close to $61 billion of the $81 billion paid out by the program in June 2018 went solely to retired workers, not including their spouses and/or children. Comparatively, only $10.3 billion went to disabled workers, with $6.9 billion paid in survivor benefits.
2. How old are they?
Now that we concretely know this is a program focused on senior citizens, let's narrow it down further by examining the most common age for a senior to be collecting benefits.
According to the latest Social Security Annual Statistical Supplement, which was current as of December 2017, there were 11.58 million retired workers between 65 and 69 who were receiving a benefit. In terms of five-year grouping this was the highest, followed closely by 11.27 million seniors aged 70 to 74 who were also receiving a monthly stipend from the program.
However, if we were to narrow down a specific age that had the most existing beneficiaries, it would be age 70. As of December, 2.82 million retired workers aged 70 years were receiving a monthly benefit check. That happens to be the high-water mark for both men (1.45 million) and women (1.37 million). Age 69 and 68 are the next closest, with 2.57 million and 2.56 million beneficiaries, respectively.
3. How much are they receiving each month?
The last thing we'd like to know is what this average retired worker was netting each month from Social Security.
Keeping in mind that the Annual Statistical Supplement data is eight months old, and thus doesn't include Social Security's 2% cost-of-living adjustment for 2018, the average 70-year-old was bringing home $1,510.49 a month. This includes an average of $1,692.48 for men, and $1,318.54 for women. Remember, women are more likely than men to remove themselves from the workforce to raise children or to take care of a sick friend or relative. In doing so, they can lower their lifetime earnings, and thus their average retired worker benefit, as observed in these figures.
In terms of average monthly benefit, the $1,510.49 is the second-highest, with only those aged 71 turning in a higher monthly average of $1,525.55. While this probably doesn't seem like a lot of money, especially considering that 62% of aged beneficiaries lean on the program for at least half of their monthly income, it's been enough to keep an estimated 15.1 million retired workers out of poverty.
So, to sum things up: The typical Social Security beneficiary is a retired worker, aged 70, who was bringing home about $1,510 a month from the program, as of the end of last year.