Jasmine V. Tucker, National Academy of Social Insurance

In September, the Census Bureau released the official poverty figures for 2012, which showed that 46.4 million Americans (15%) lived in poverty last year. Three vitally important social insurance programs, Social Security, unemployment insurance (UI), and workers’ compensation, and a related program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), kept the poverty rate from being much higher. Last year, these four programs worked together to keep nearly 26 million Americans above the federal poverty level, which was roughly $12,000 for a non-elderly adult living alone and $23,300 for two non-elderly adults and two children.

Working together, Social Security, UI, workers’ compensation, and SSI kept nearly 26 million people out of poverty in 2012, [1] including:

  • More than 1.8 million children;
  • More than 8.4 million non-elderly adults; and
  • More than 15.6 million elderly adults aged 65+.

Social Security alone lifted more than 22.1 million people out of poverty in 2012, including:

  • More than 1.0 million children;
  • Nearly 5.9 million non-elderly adults; and
  • More than 15.2 million adults aged 65+.

UI alone lifted more than 1.7 million people out of poverty in 2012, including:

  • 446,000 children;
  • More than 1.2 million non-elderly adults; and
  • 64,000 elderly adults aged 65+.

Workers’ compensation alone lifted 125,000 people out of poverty in 2012, including:

  • 36,000 children; and
  • 86,000 non-elderly adults; and
  • 2,000 elderly adults aged 65+.

SSI alone lifted more than 1.9 million people out of poverty in 2012 [2], including:

  • 327,000 children;
  • Nearly 1.3 million non-elderly adults; and
  • 316,000 elderly adults aged 65+.

So this Thanksgiving, take some time to learn more about how these programs help millions of American families:

[1] NASI calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement (2013) (using CPS Table Creator II) http://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html. Individual program numbers may not equal total because some households needed more than one program to raise income above the poverty threshold.

[2] Note that this figure may underrepresent the number of individuals receiving SSI, because individuals who are interviewed for the Current Population Survey often do not report receiving SSI. For more information, see: Wiseman, Michael, and Nicholas, Joyce. “Elderly Poverty and Supplemental Security Income, 2002-2005.” Social Security Bulletin. Vol. 70, No. 2, 2010, 1-29. http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n2/v70n2p1.html.


  1. Demba November 27, 2013 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    It takes courage for a Nation
    It takes courage for a Nation to face its obligations and educate its People in the Value of Insurance, I mean Life Insurance.

  2. Doris Lavery November 27, 2013 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    I plan on looking into these
    I plan on looking into these articles in my spare time. This article made it possible to easily pick and choose what I am interested in reading . I appreciate that because when they run on and on I get disinterested. Thank you.

  3. William Vaughan November 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the thank you!
    Thank you for the thank you! Nicely done. Haven’t read all the links yet, but look forward to the day the summary includes the impact of Medicare on preventing poverty among beneficiaries–and their families of caregivers. I know that without Medicare to help my mom, dad, and two in-laws, I’d be eating Spam and grits this T-day (which isn’t a bad combination, it just gets very old very fast).

  4. Paul McAndrew November 30, 2013 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    May I place this article on
    May I place this article on my blog (“Iowa Workers’ Compensation”)? Of course this would be with complete attribution.

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