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Social Security and People of Color

Social Security is especially important to people of color because they are less likely than white Americans to have pensions or retirement savings. In 2014, 44 percent of those age 65 and older received income from retirement benefits other than Social Security, such as defined benefit pensions, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401(k) plans and related savings. People of color were less likely to receive income from these sources to supplement Social Security. For instance, among seniors over age 65 in 2014, 30 percent of African Americans, 25 percent of Asian Americans, and 19 percent of Americans of Hispanic descent, received such income, compared to 47 percent of white Americans.

As a result, people of color rely more heavily on Social Security income in retirement. Among seniors 65 and older, Social Security is the sole source of income for 40 percent of Hispanics, 33 percent of African Americans, and 26 percent of Asian and Pacific Islanders, compared to 18 percent of whites. 

Because people of color generally earn less than whites, they benefit from Social Security's progressive benefit formula, which replaces a higher percentage of pre-retirement earnings for low-wage workers. In 2014, median earnings for people who worked full-time, year-round were $44,000 for all workers, compared to $31,760 for African Americans and $30,000 for Hispanics. During that year, the average annual Social Security income for African American seniors was $14,672 for men and $12,640 for women.

Social Security's survivor and disability benefits are important sources of income security for many people of color. Because African Americans have lower life expectancy and higher disability rates before age 65 as compared to other races, they are more likely to receive Social Security disability and survivor benefits. 

Support for Social Security is particularly strong among African Americans and Hispanics. In a recent Academy survey, 91 percent of African Americans and 84 percent of Hispanics and of whites say they don’t mind paying Social Security taxes because it provides security and stability to millions of Americans. Eighty-seven percent of Americans agree it is critical to preserve Social Security for future generations even if it means increasing Social Security taxes paid by working Americans; those agreeing include 90 percent of African Americans, 84 percent of Hispanics, and 81 percent of whites. In addition, 68 percent of African Americans and 72 percent of Hispanics prefer a package of Social Security changes that includes two revenue increases and two benefit increases.

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Read what some Academy members think:*

* The views of Academy members are their own and not an official position of the National Academy of Social Insurance or its funders.