The Straight Facts on Social Security

Fact Sheet | November 20, 2011

Executive Summary

Social Security is far more than a retirement program

Social Security is the bedrock of economic security for millions of children, workers and retired Americans. During recessions, Social Security benefits help stabilize communities everywhere.

  • Social Security provides benefits to 55 million people each month in 2011, including more than 1 million people in Washington state – 1 out of every 4 households.
  • 4.4 million children through age 19 are direct Social Security beneficiaries; many others have an immediate family member who receives Social Security benefits.
  • One third of beneficiaries collect survivors or disability insurance, keeping millions of families with a disabled or deceased breadwinner out of poverty.

Social Security benefits are designed to provide a basic income for everyone who contributes, replacing half the earnings for a low wage worker, one-third for median wage earners, and one-quarter for high wage workers. Social Security has almost eliminated poverty among the elderly, thanks to lifetime retirement benefits, annual cost of living increases, and family benefits.

Social Security is in good shape financially – now and far into the future

Social Security operates at a surplus and will have ample funding to serve future generations:

  • Baby-Boomers: Social Security has collected extra payroll taxes for nearly 30 years, building up the Trust Fund for the baby boomers’ retirement. Unlike any other program, Social Security projects 75 years into the future and plans for demographic changes.
  • Gen-Xers, Gen-Ys and Millennials: Social Security payroll taxes will continue paying the benefits of retirees, disabled workers, and surviving family members, even after the Trust Fund is spent down. And because benefits go up a little faster than inflation, benefits for future retirees will be worth more than today’s seniors receive.
  • Meanwhile, younger workers can rest assured that if anything happens to them, their families will receive survivors or disability benefits.

Social Security’s finances are sound

The notion that Social Security is going broke is simply wrong. With $2.7 trillion in workers contributions invested in U.S. Treasury bonds, Social Security’s finances are strong now and will be solvent for decades to come. Treasury bonds – widely considered the safest investment in the world – help pay for education, research, transportation and other public projects that make the U.S. more competitive and productive. The return on investment improves Social Security’s long-term bottom line; it’s a win-win for every American.


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