Jasmine V. Tucker, National Academy of Social Insurance

This Thanksgiving, Americans across the country can be thankful for four critical programs that helped keep nearly 26 million people out of poverty in 2011, including three social insurance programs: Social Security, unemployment insurance (UI), and workers' compensation, and a related program, Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Millions of people struggling to make ends meet will continue to do so this holiday season, even as the sluggish recovery begins to speed up. Despite a steady—but slow—decline in the number of unemployed workers, October 2012 marked the 46th consecutive month that the unemployment rate has been over 7.8 percent. [1] Additionally, more than one in seven people, including more than one in five children, lived in poverty in 2011. [2] But thanks to a few key programs, the number of Americans living in poverty is nearly 26 million less than it would have been without them.

Working together, Social Security, UI, workers' compensation, and SSI kept 25.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, [3] including:

  • Nearly 2.0 million children;
  • Nearly 8.8 million non-elderly adults; and
  • Nearly 15.0 million elderly adults aged 65+.

Social Security alone lifted more than 21.4 million people out of poverty in 2011, including:

  • More than 1.1 million children;
  • More than 5.8 million non-elderly adults; and
  • Nearly 14.5 million elderly adults aged 65+. Benefits lowered the elderly adult poverty rate from 44 percent to just nine percent.

UI alone lifted nearly 2.3 million people out of poverty in 2011, including:

  • 621,000 children;
  • More than 1.6 million non-elderly adults; and
  • 74,000 elderly adults aged 65+.

Workers’ compensation alone lifted 114,000 people out of poverty in 2011, including:

  • 32,000 children; and
  • 76,000 non-elderly adults.

SSI alone lifted more than 2.0 million people out of poverty in 2011 [4], including:

  • 311,000 children;
  • More than 1.3 million non-elderly adults; and
  • 368,000 elderly adults aged 65+.

To learn more about how these programs help millions of people and their families:

  • Watch a video on Social Security: Just the Facts on Finances, Benefits, and Public Opinion;
  • Read NASI’s new brief on SSI for disabled children; or
  • Learn about the three million unemployed workers who will lose federal UI benefits if Congress fails to extend them at the end of this year.

[1] U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey, Table A-1, http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011 – Report and Detailed Tables (2012), http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/data/incpovhlth/2011/index.html.

[3] NASI calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement (2012) (using CPS Table Creator II), http://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html. Individual program numbers do not equal total because some households needed more than one program to raise income above the poverty threshold.

[4] 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, 1-2, http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n2/v70n2p1.html.


  1. Robert November 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    I bet you don’t even know I
    I bet you don’t even know I am living in poverty. Your surveys are the tip of the iceberg.

  2. jrfgist@gmail.com November 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    Nice work. This is important
    Nice work. This is important stuff to keep reminding people about.

  3. Lillie kik January 9, 2013 at 7:30 am - Reply

    I am having trouble with
    I am having trouble with paying so much for medicare plus a suppliment and a prescription program it is almost 300.00 dollars a month plus co-pays on my medications I have a lot of precription but can’t afford to pay for all them I get $1059.00 a month and have a small retirement payment o $282,00 after they take out medicare the pay $ 146.00 a supplement and then $50.00 a month for prescription coverage after I pay my living expense of $ 800.00 amonth I have to many prescription so i can’t affort to get them each month , I don’t have enough left for food and gas to go to the doctor is there any way I can ger help or do I make to much?

  4. Janice Hill February 1, 2013 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    Just read your article of
    Just read your article of Jan.31 on choices americans agree on how to strenthen Social Security. It is an answer to how this necessary program can be there for those now on S. Security and for our children and grandchildren. We need the younger generation to be educated about the choices we can make to keep Social Security strong. Most people only hear that we just don’t have the money to spare to fund Social Security. The politicians don’t seem to have a plan or if they do, they aren’t talking about it. The media needs to focus on Social Security more. I learned much from this article about how to fix Social Security’s problems. Thank you and I hope people who can influence the outcome of Social Security will read what you have proposed.

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