More than 64 million people receive Social Security benefits, and more than half of all retired workers who get Social Security count on it for the majority of their income during their retired years. That makes it crucial to have a sense of what you can expect to receive from Social Security.
A lot of what you get from Social Security depends on exactly which benefits you qualify to receive. Many workers end up relying primarily on their own work records to determine their retirement benefits. However, with several other types of benefits being available from Social Security, knowing what to expect from each type can be extremely helpful. Here, we'll look at what the average American gets from each of the five primary benefits that Social Security pays.
1. Retired workers: $1,506 per month
About seven in every 10 people receiving Social Security -- 45.3 million as of January 2020 -- receive Social Security benefits as retired workers based on their own work records. In order to qualify for those benefits, you need to have worked for 10 years in covered employment, earning 40 Social Security credits in the process.
Social Security paid out a total of $68.2 billion in monthly benefits to retired workers in January. That works out to $1,506 per person -- making retired workers the recipients of the largest monthly benefit of any group that the Social Security Administration breaks out in its statistics.
2. Spousal benefits: $787 per month
Spouses of retired workers are also entitled to receive benefits from Social Security. Even if you've never worked, you can collect on your spouse's work history if your spouse is eligible for retirement benefits. The benefit amount you'll receive is typically one-half of your spouse's full retirement age benefit, adjusted downward if you claim earlier than your own full retirement age.
Only 2.4 million people claim spousal benefits, receiving just over $1.9 billion monthly. That works out to just $787 per month, showing that for many working spouses, what Social Security pays for spousal benefits is less than what they've managed to earn in regular retirement benefits from their own work histories.
3. Survivor benefits for spouses: $1,425 per month
If your spouse passes away, then you'll be eligible for a different type of Social Security benefit. Survivor benefits generally pay you 100% of whatever your spouse was receiving from Social Security in retirement benefits, or your spouse's full retirement age benefit if your spouse dies before claiming Social Security benefits. That amount can also get adjusted downward if you claim your survivor benefits prior to reaching your own full retirement age.
About 3.6 million surviving spouses who aren't disabled split $5.1 billion in benefits each month, working out to $1,425 per person monthly. That's relatively close to the average retired worker's benefit, showing the link between the two payouts.
4. Survivor benefits for children: $903 per month
Some children are also eligible to receive benefits if a parent passes away. Eligible children can receive up to 75% of their parent's Social Security retirement benefit. However, there are some maximum family benefit limitations that can reduce the amount that children in large families are able to receive. To qualify, a child must be 17 or younger, or still be in high school and no older than 19, or be disabled.
The average surviving child receives $903 per month, for a total of $1.7 billion over 1.9 million beneficiaries. Those benefits typically go away when the child reaches adulthood, but the temporary support can still be invaluable in helping sustain them financially.
5. Disabled worker benefits: $1,258 per month
Finally, Social Security pays disability benefits to workers prior to retirement age who become permanently disabled and unable to perform their jobs. About 8.4 million disabled workers get benefits totaling $10.5 billion, averaging $1,258 per person each month.
Family members are also eligible to receive benefits under certain circumstances, but those situations are relatively rare, and payouts are modest. For those who become disabled, however, Social Security payments play an important role in maintaining the ability to cover basic living expenses.
Make the most of Social Security
With so many different Social Security benefits, it can be hard to keep them all straight. However, every aspect of the program is working to protect you, and benefits you're entitled to receive can make a huge difference in helping you make ends meet financially.