Social Security

Background

Social Security provides vital income protection to workers and their families. Social Security is more than a retirement program. It is a social insurance and family income-protection plan. It provides income to retired workers and to spouses and dependent children of wage earners who die or become disabled during their working lives.

Several design elements ensure that Social Security provides a strong foundation for economic security. The calculation of initial benefits ensures that they reflect current living standards, which tend to rise over time. Benefits are adjusted annually for inflation. Unlike savings accounts, which can be exhausted, Social Security benefits last a lifetime. Social Security’s progressive benefit formula ensures that Social Security replaces a higher percentage of earnings for people with low wages than for people with high wages.

Social Security plays a crucial role in reducing poverty among older people, particularly women and racial and ethnic groups that have experienced discrimination. Without Social Security, 41 percent of all older Americans would be in poverty. Instead, only 9.3 percent were below the poverty line in 2016.

Social Security is the primary source of retirement income for most Americans. About half of people age 65 and older depend on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their retirement income. About one-quarter rely on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income.