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The Role of Benefits in Income and Poverty

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 (65 percent) of those beneficiaries, Social Security is 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 $11,011 for an aged individual and $13,878 for an aged couple in 2012. 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 21 million Americans out of poverty, including nearly 14.5 million seniors and 1 million children.

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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.