Millions of Elderly Americans Avoid Poverty Thanks to Social Security

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A new study, relying on Census Bureau data from all 50 states, shows that Social Security checks are an essential lifeline for millions of Americans.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a report which shows that government checks lifted over 16.5 million elderly Americans out of poverty in 2022.  The same study indicated that 6.2 million Americans with disabilities, disabled workers, and children were also lifted out of poverty thanks to Social Security assistance.

Over 38.7% of Elderly Would Fall Below the Poverty Line Without Social Security

CBPP’s report underscores the importance of Social Security for millions of America’s most vulnerable citizens, the elderly. The organization points out that the program is a critical retirement resource, especially for women and minorities: “Women tend to earn less than men, take more time out of the paid workforce, accumulate fewer savings, and receive smaller pensions.”

Like women, African Americans and Latinos have lower-than-average earnings over a lifetime. This means they have fewer options and resources for saving up for retirement — making Social Security a vital part of life after their working years. CBPP explains, ” Without Social Security, the poverty rate among older Latino adults would be 43 percent, and the poverty rate among older Black adults would be 47.4 percent.”

The think tank also came to the conclusion that without these benefits from the government, 38.7 percent of elderly Americans would have incomes that fall below the national poverty line.

Census Data from Individual States

CBPP conducts its research by examining census data provided by each individual state. They also measure poverty by the national standard — $14,040 for an elderly individual, $17,710 for an elderly couple, and $29,950 for an average family of four.

Here in the graph below, you can see just how much Social Security helped the elderly in each state.

Biggest Impact for Florida and Mississippi Seniors

The Social Security program lifted the most (more than 1.4 million) elderly people out of poverty in Florida. The least amount of people lifted out of poverty was the District of Columbia, with just 17,000 impoverished seniors. But, it’s important to remember these numbers are directly relevant to the size of the state at hand.

With that in mind, Mississippi is the state that has the largest percentage of elderly residents lifted out of poverty thanks to Social Security. As of 2022, 14.9 percent of Mississippi residents 65 and older were living in poverty — but without the benefits of the Social Security program, the think tank found that number would more than quadruple to 52.3 percent.

Benefits Are Necessary, But So Is Reform

Social Security is a vital financial foundation for older seniors in retirement.  According to the Social Security Administration in its Fact Sheet released in 2024: “In 2024, an average of almost 68 million Americans per month will receive a Social Security benefit, totaling about $1.5 trillion in benefits paid during the year.” Moreover, the Fact Sheet reported:  “The number of Americans 65 and older will increase from about 58 million in 2022 to about 75 million by 2035.”

The program is expected to fall short on funding by 2034, according to the 2023 Social Security Trustees Report . Without action by our government, Social Security won’t be able to pay those beneficiaries their promised funds.

There’s bipartisan agreement that the program needs to be reformed – but Congress is split on how to do just that. Progressives suggest revenue increases while conservatives would rather cut benefits.

But because the issue is so divided, reform on the issue could be long delayed. Until then, millions of Americans will continue to benefit from the Social Security program.

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(This article has been updated April, 2024 since it originally published in November,  2016).

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