My holiday gift guide does not include a box of chocolates or tickets for a Caribbean cruise. This is a boring old Social Security column, after all, so my gift suggestions are related to that government pension program.
Near the top of my list is my absolute favorite Social Security publication. Called “Fast Facts and Figures About Social Security,” it’s just crammed with interesting and useful information about the program. And the good news is that they squeeze all that information into a booklet. The 2022 edition is only 43 pages long.
To find the booklet on the Social Security Administration website, visit tucne.ws/1m4y. You can download the entire publication, but if you’re an old-fashioned guy like me, you might like to get a hard copy of it. I’m not really sure how to do that. There is a contact number and email address. I left them a message asking for the book, but I haven’t heard back yet.
The first few pages of the book provide general information about the various Social Security programs. But the rest is filled with fascinating little snippets of information. (A word of caution: I mean “fascinating” to a boring old Social Security guy like me.) I’ll spend the rest of the column sharing some of this data.
There were 8.1 million new claims for Social Security benefits filed last year. That’s about 27,000 new claims filed every single workday of the year. (If you wonder why you may have trouble getting an appointment at a Social Security Administration office or getting through to SSA’s 800 number, that is part of the reason.)
Of those more than 8 million new claims, 59% were for retirement benefits; 31% were for survivor benefits; and 10% were for disability benefits.
Another chart shows that claims for retirement benefits have been climbing steadily over the years but have really spiked since 2005 (when the baby boomers started retiring). But interestingly, claims for disability benefits peaked in about 2010, and have been dropping off ever since. Perhaps that’s an indication that baby boomers are the first generation of seniors who do a better job of taking care of themselves (physically and mentally) and therefore are less likely to file for disability benefits.
I like a little pie chart in the booklet that breaks down the total Social Security population by types of benefits. Seventy-three percent are getting retirement benefits; 12% are getting disability benefits; 6% are the spouses and children of people getting retirement and disability benefits; and 9% are getting survivor benefits.
Another pie chart gives the age breakdown of Social Security beneficiaries. Nine percent are 85 and older; 25% are 75 to 84 years old; 44% are 65 to 74 years old; 7% are 62 to 64 years old; 11% are 18 to 61 years old; and 4% are under age 18.
This statistic may be surprising to some: There are more women getting Social Security benefits than men. Fifty-five percent of all beneficiaries are women and 45% are men.
Here’s the gender breakdown by category of benefit. Of all women getting Social Security, 71% get retirement benefits; 12% get disability benefits; 11% get widow’s benefits; and 6% get benefits as the spouse of a retiree or disabled person.
Of all men getting Social Security, 84% get retirement benefits; 14% get disability benefits; and 2% get benefits as widowers or as the spouse of a retiree or disabled person.
Another chart in the booklet shows how times have changed since Social Security first started paying monthly benefits in 1940. Back then, only 12% of retirement benefits were paid to women. Today, women make up 51% of all retirement beneficiaries.
The average monthly retirement benefit paid to men last year was $1,838, compared to $1,484 paid to women. But as might be expected, women get higher average spousal and survivor benefits.
Another indication of how women’s role in the workforce, and in turn, in the Social Security population, has changed over the years is a chart that shows that in 1960, 57% of all women over age 62 were getting benefits only as a dependent wife on a husband’s Social Security account. Today, only 18% of women are in that category. Twenty-four percent of current women beneficiaries over 62 are “dually entitled,” meaning they get some benefits on their own work record and some benefits as a spouse from a husband’s account; 58% of women get only their own retirement benefit.
Of the almost 3 million children who get Social Security benefits, the majority, about 1.3 million, get survivor benefits from a deceased father’s or mother’s Social Security record. Another 1.1 million are the minor children of someone getting Social Security disability benefits. The remainder are the children of retirees.
My favorite section of “Fast Facts and Figures” helps clarify (with the use of easy-to-understand charts and graphs) the most misunderstood part of Social Security: the financing of the program. With the little space I have left, I’ll just share this. Of the more than $1 trillion in program revenues last year, 90.1% came from payroll taxes; 6.4% came from interest earned on the trust fund holdings; and 3.5% came from the taxation of Social Security benefits. And where did all that money go? The payment of Social Security benefits took up 99%; 0.6% went to administrative expenses; and 0.4% went to the Railroad Retirement fund. (There is a small interrelationship between Social Security and Railroad beneficiaries.)
And before I close out today’s column, let me suggest another couple of Social Security-related holiday gift ideas. I’m talking about my own books: “Social Security: Simple and Smart” and “Social Security: 100 Myths and 100 Facts.” The first provides 10 fact sheets that will answer all your questions about Social Security. The second dispels many of the myths that confuse so many Americans about our nation’s bedrock social insurance program. You can get both books for less than 10 bucks each at Amazon and other booksellers.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has a book with all the answers. It’s called “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” You can find the book at creators.com/books. Or look for it on Amazon or other book outlets. To find out more about him and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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