Summary: About 6.5 million children under age 18 – or nearly 9 percent of all U.S. children – received part of their family income from Social Security in 2005. They include 3.1 million children who receive benefits as dependents of deceased, disabled, or retired workers and an estimated 3.4 million other children who do not themselves receive Social Security but live with relatives who do.
Social Security benefits often make the difference in lifting children out of poverty. Of the 6.5 million children in families that received Social Security, fully 1.3 million were lifted out of poverty by Social Security income.
Social Security is the most widespread form of life insurance for American families. Almost all U.S. workers – including men and women in the armed forces – have life insurance through Social Security when tragedy strikes. For example, Social Security continues to pay benefits to more than 2,000 children whose parents died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Children, their parents, and caretakers have an important stake in the future of Social Security. While the program is in strong financial shape over the next decade, it is not in balance for the full 75 years used to assess its finances. Policymakers are considering ways to balance the system by raising revenues, cutting benefits, or both. Because children’s benefits are directly tied to benefits earned by their working parents, any across-the-board reduction in workers’ benefits would cut insurance protection for children, unless they were specifically exempted. Moreover, even if children’s own benefits were exempted, children would share the impact of reductions in benefits paid to others in their families. Analysts and advocates for children have an important role to fill in Social Security policy discussions.