Social Security is the major source of income for older Americans. About nine in 10 Americans aged 65 and older receive Social Security. For nearly two out of three of those beneficiaries (65 percent), Social Security was more than half their total income, and for one in three (36 percent), it is all or nearly all of their income. Social Security is a large share of income because many Americans age 65 and older lack significant income from other sources. Pensions (from private or government employment) were received by about half of married couples (from either the husband's or the wife's career). Among the unmarried, 38 percent of men and 34 percent of women had pensions.
Social Security is the sole source of income for about one in five (21 percent) of people aged 65 and older. Certain subgroups are particularly reliant on Social Security. Of those age 65 and older, Social Security is the sole source of income for 36 percent of Hispanics and African Americans, 25 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders, 19 percent of whites, and 20 percent of unmarried women.
Social Security plays an important role in keeping older Americans out of poverty. The poverty threshold was $10,788 for an aged individual and $13,610 for an aged couple in 2011. About one in 10 Americans age 65 and older is poor, by this measure. If they had to rely only on their income other than Social Security, nearly half would be poor. Overall, Social Security keeps 20 million Americans out of poverty, including nearly 14 million seniors and 1 million children.
For more information, see:
- Social Security Benefits, Finances, and Policy Options: A Primer
- How Would Seniors Fare – by Age, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, and Income – Under the Bowles-Simpson Social Security Proposals by 2070?, Social Security Brief No. 38
- Strengthening Social Security for the Long Run, Social Security Brief No. 35
- Economic Status of the Elderly in the United States
- A New Minimum Benefit for Low Lifetime Earners
- Longevity Insurance: Strengthening Social Security for the Old-Old
- Testimony of Virginia P. Reno at "Social Security at 75: More Necessary Than Ever"
- Restoring Old Age Income Security for Low-Wage Single Workers
- Children's Stake in Social Security, Social Security Brief No. 27
- Social Security and Retirement Income Adequacy, Social Security Brief No. 25
- Survivor Benefits for Families of Deceased Service members and Overseas Contract Workers, Social Security Brief No. 23
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* The views of NASI members are their own and not an official position of the National Academy of Social Insurance or its funders.