Social Security: The Foundation of Economic Security

March 21, 2016 • By

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Last Updated: August 19, 2021

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Social Security in 1935, he saw the program as a fundamental way to advance economic fairness and social justice. Social Security has grown and improved to fulfill FDR’s vision, and we have just completed a year celebrating the 80th anniversary of this important program.

Today, Social Security’s insurance protection is the foundation of retirement security for almost all American workers and families. The average Social Security benefit is modest – about $1,340 a month – yet this benefit is the main income for most seniors. For two in three seniors who receive it, Social Security is more than half of their total income. That includes one in three where it makes up all or almost all of their income. Social Security is especially important for communities of color, women, and other vulnerable groups.

At the American Society on Aging’s Aging in America conference on March 23, I will be honored to share vital information about “The State of Seniors in Poverty,” along with the distinguished Kathy Greenlee of the Administration for Community Living.

For example, many people know that 10 percent of seniors, or 4.6 million individuals, live in poverty. Yet many don’t know just how important Social Security is in preventing seniors from falling into poverty. If today’s seniors had to rely on only their income from sources other than Social Security, fully 4 in 10 would be poor. Social Security is our nation’s most effective poverty prevention program; its retirement, disability, and survivor benefits keep 21 million Americans out of poverty, including 14 million seniors. So, keeping Social Security strong is one of the best ways that we, as a nation, can address senior poverty and promote economic security for all.

“But,” you might ask, “what about the future of Social Security?” Actually, Social Security’s finances are far stronger than many people realize. The program as a whole is sufficiently funded until 2034, and after that, it is about three-quarters fully financed. This is a good time to begin a national conversation about how to keep Social Security strong for the very long term – and there are many options available to lawmakers. According to recent public opinion research, including studies conducted by the Pew Research Center and the National Academy of Social Insurance, Americans understand Social Security’s enduring value and support preserving benefits for future generations.

Social Security has had a very successful first 80 years, and I am confident about its long-term future. We at the Social Security Administration look forward to the next 80 years, and beyond, of continuing to serve the American people and building on FDR’s vision of promoting economic security and fairness for the American people.

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About the Author

Virginia P. Reno, Deputy Commissioner, Retirement and Disability Policy

Virginia P. Reno, Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy, Social Security Administration


  1. Susan

    For all of you who are worried about the Government spending all your Social Security benefits and there won’t be enough for you…..why not support an effort to abolish Social Security’s FORCED contribution by you and your employer that gives the money to the Government? Wouldn’t it be better if you could have KEPT your contribution, matched by your employer(s) and invested the money yourself? People who are retired or within 20 years of full Social Security age can stay in the program. But people in their 40s or younger should be able to invest that money for their personal retirements instead of being beholden to the Government to decide how much their monthly benefit will be or if they will get a raise or not. Take responsibility for your retirement. If you don’t want to do it yourself and want the Government to do it for you, then QUIT COMPLAINING. You’re getting what you deserve!

    • John O.

      If people under 40 were given a choice, then funding for the current recipients would collapse and SS would end as we know it. More people would be thrown into poverty. Further, there is a disability insurance and survivor aspect to SS. Workers could not afford those premiums if they had to but a private plan

      • Susan

        Social Security is going to collapse without HUGE infusions of more taxpayer money. So, why not set a limit on how many people the system will have to support until they are all dead. The people who started saving for themselves will eventually eliminate the need for a government program. Social Security is a failed program because the life expectancy has greatly increased without an off-setting increase in the retirement age and an increase in percentage of salary that is confiscated from the employee and matched by our employers. I would guess that most of the people who have commented to this blog are also in favor of “means testing”. Be careful what you wish for…..this idea won’t only extend to wealthy people. Remember, “wealthy” is in the eye of the beholder. Someone who makes $25,000 looks rich compared to someone who makes $10,000. I haven’t made millions in my life, but I don’t think it’s the responsibility of people who have made millions to pay for my retirement or healthcare.

        • prof e.

          there is a gradual increase in the retirement age, instituted by ronald reagan in the 80s. If one is born after 1960 they cannot get SS until they are 67. It graduates up from there

          • Ray F.

            The full retirement age for a person born in 1960 or later is 67. This means that he or she will receive the maximum Social Security retirement benefit amount that they qualify for, at age 67. Remember, the earliest a person can start receiving reduced retirement benefits will remain age 62.

  2. ADC

    Agreed. A friend of mine just retired and realized at that point that he has to pay federal and state income taxes on his social security. This is ridiculous. It should be tax free after paying federal and state taxes when you were working and paying into social security. After all, the federal government is using your funds to supplement current benefit payments but are not paying you interest on those monies that you lend the social security system. Give us a break why don’t you.

  3. Nancy

    I am in total agreement with Martha and Lynn paying taxes on you SS benefits. I believe that that is one area of benefits that should be tax-exempt. You are taxed on that income previously. But, the government’s agrument is that they need the taxes to pay for roads, social programs, etc., WELL, ahem!

  4. Albert B.

    I have two comments:
    The first is that so many people persist in “checking themselves out” at the grocery store and places like WalMart without realizing that by doing so, they are depriving a cashier of a job. That cashier would pay Social Security and Medicare taxes to make the two programs “healthier”.
    My second comment is that there should be a $1.00 a pack tax immediately imposed on cigarettes to make the smokers prepay what they will withdraw from Medicare in later years because of their ruined health from smoking cigarettes.

    • Susan

      Get real… should applaud people who smoke. They are going to die early and not collect much in Social Security leaving more money for people who have no vices. Hope you’re not one of the millions of obese people in this country that are draining Medicare because of all the medical problems associated with obesity. Apparently being obese is OK but smoking isn’t. Did I get that right????

      • prof e.

        Neither are ok, they are both one’s own fault unless the obesity is caused by a medical condition and not poor eating or lack of exercise

  5. Mary B.

    what is this on the internet that we baby boomers only have till April something to sign up to recieve our full social security or a percentage more instead of losing most of our benefits?? I want to sign up for this ….I’ve worked my butt off and don’t want to lose a dime of what I’ve contributed.

    • John O.

      Much of what you hear is scare tactics put out by professional “financial planners”. Changes in the law is putting them out of business. If you want to know more about changes in the law it is free. Call the SS toll free number 1-800-772-1213. If you call and make an appointment before April 30th your potential benefits are protected.

      • Peggy

        For Mr. Omalia: What is the reason for which we are scheduling the appointment. What potential benefits are we protecting?

  6. vrose

    Being permanently disabled since I was 45 and unable to make any supplemental income despite many efforts, is very difficult and depressing to say the least. Those (i.e. like Republicans who don’t know crap about what our country needs, and anyone else like Republicans who feel the same) who have a lot of ignorant things to say about the many of us, whether disabled on social security or retired on social security, don’t understand the true benefits and the need for social security.

    Those who own their own businesses and are “successful” look down upon everyone, the vast majority, whom are struggling with everything they’ve got to try to make ends meet… they are the ones who are “down” on social security, making accusations that are not founded on truth at all, but are simply judgmental and they don’t know anything about the need for social security. They look at the disabled and the poor and call them stupid or ignorant or any number of “labels” having nothing to do with the truth of each individual and what they have been going through having nothing to do with lack of education or being “lazy”. I have a masters degree, and because of my disabilities, some from car accidents where I’ve been hit, causing major problems with my spine, as well as being born with a genetic disease that debilitates me, even with activities of daily living (ADLs). It’s difficult, because when people look at me, I don’t look “sick”, but my spine is degenerating and the genetic disease is one that is very complex, taking away the things people do every day and take for granted. There is no “job” I can even do in my condition.

    When I see negative comments people make about social security, they are misunderstanding “who” is behind the “problems” that exist, which cause our social security benefits to continue to dwindle. It’s not something that is talked about, because the people are not aware of how those in Congress as well as the corporate elite (a very small 1% of the wealthy who make the rules, and hide behind those whom the people “think” are making the rules) work — how they continue to keep taking money from social security to use on whatever they deem necessary because they always take from the poor. This has never changed over many centuries, even before social security existed.

    I really wish people would WAKE UP and smell the deception, and take back what is OURS by coming together and letting those in power know that we will not put up with their deception, lies, rules, and even give us candidates for office whom are ALL crooked liars. They are the true thieves in our country and in the world.

    PLEASE… there must be more education on social security and more power to the People to choose people we can trust to hold seats in our government, as well as the pathetic candidates we are given who run for presidency and are ALL liars and not worthy to be “representatives” of our country. SAVE Social Security. Without it, I would be out on the streets with no home, as is the case with many, many people. No one chooses to be disabled or be born with genetic diseases or anything that happens — whatever the situation — that people experience which takes away their ability to have a home and food and the things that ALL people deserve to have, NOT just those whom are wealthy. Many of the wealthy have gotten their wealth through deceptive ways and did not earn it. Yet, they are the same people who blame and shame those whom are hit hard with the difficult life challenges that they did nothing to bring upon themselves.

    Everyone in the world should be united and there should be no one without the basic needs that every human being is entitled to.

    • Harry T.

      I have the same Question as above ?
      Will my social security Benefits have any changes after May 1, 2016 ? Please let me know there is any changes.
      Thanks !

      • Cloyce C.

        Social Security is Insurance we paid into Against Old Age & Need
        It is NOT welfare or a gift.
        Congress pay back the 2.6 Trillion that you stole from it!
        Then it will be solvent!

        • dottie b.

          it is a good idea to invest our own lump sum that we placed into social security

        • Rosalie

          Amen! Money should never have been taken from this fund, especially when we can send trillions a year to other countries who even fight against us.

          • Vincent

            I have to Amen that comment! I have never understood how our country send money everywhere but here at home. Charity starts at home. I’m on disability benefits and worked for years before I became disable. It is SO hard living on this income. Those Bigwigs have no idea of what we go through at all. I’ve had to visit food banks, take out payday loans, trying to make ends meet. I say keep our funds at home, help here first, then them. It’s like the airlines says, put your mask on first!

        • Charlie P.


    • Susan

      Sounds like you’re a Trump supporter!

    • John O.

      Social Security is an important part of our society. To say otherwise is ignorant. Having said that, much of what you posted is judgemental as you seek to find demons where there are none and promote antipathy between the rich and poor. This is not a political forum. People have genuine concerns and this forum gives them an opportunity to get information for others.

    • Claudet s.

      There are so many people receiving SS who never paid a cent into the system. It is utterly out of control and draining the system. The money is there we just need to elect honest politicians .

      • Retired

        If you worked and your wife stayed home she also deserves to get a percentage because by working at home you get paid nothing. How is she going to make it, if the husband dies? Most grown children don’t care about their elderly parents because now they have a family of their own, so they aren’t going to pitch in to help the mother. What I get now my wife will get part of it, when she gets to the age she is eligible, if I am alive or dead.

    • Jamie t.

      I think your being ridicolous i don’t feel like people look down on you cause your truly disabled thats what its there for. I don’t think that anyone really wants to take our ss away. People who work pay into this and its their for a reason.You see its all a effect on our economy when we have illegals over here taking our jobs using up assisted government programs….this just effects everyone in so many ways….i could go on and on.
      Im a republican and my husband has a deteriorating hip and is going to have a full hip replacement hes been out of work for 4 years and we have struggled imensley…hopefully he now will get what he paid into for so many years.
      Im really not sure what your complaining about if you ssi was lowered or something its not because of the republicans the democrats have been in office for how long now?
      No republican wants to cut your ssi they just want to solve the problems that the democrats have caused by allowing to many undeserving people to suck off the goverment.

  7. Lynn N.

    I agree with Martha Greeson. When we contributed to Social Security, our wages are already taxed. Now that we get our benefits, we are again required to pay federal taxes. The money we contributed while working were not tax exempt so why are we to pay again the federal taxes?

    • Collyn

      Years ago, I read it is because the average SS recipient receives at minimum 15% more SS than what they paid in, so the difference should be taxable I suspect people receive far more than the 15% now, but it is still a bitter pill to swallow, to pay tax on the SS. I guess the answer is to not earn more than the allotted amount, then you won’t pay tax on your SS.

      • dottie b.

        thinking like this is what continues our rights to be taken away!!!!

  8. Martha G.

    I am still working full time and what I find vastly UNFAIR is that I have to pay income taxes on my all the social security benefits I receive. I am 71 years old.

    • S

      Right–And, what they don’t tell you about starting your benefits at 62, is that the cap on what you can make AND draw SS is only until age 66, then you can make unlimited $ AND continue to draw SS.

      • Ray F.

        Under current law, everyone working in covered employment or self-employment regardless of age or eligibility for benefits must pay Social Security taxes. Also, some people may have to pay federal income taxes on their Social Security benefits. This usually happens only if you have other substantial income in addition to your benefits. Please read our publication How Works Affect Your Benefits and see “What happens if I work and get Social Security retirement benefits”. For more information. For further income tax questions, you will need to contact the IRS. Their toll-free number is 1-800-829-1040.

        • Connie

          I am 68 and still working full time. I am also receiving my social security benefit monthly. What would happen if I now got a federal job and worked enough years to receive a pension benefit? Would my social security benefit be reduced?

          • Ray F.

            Hi Connie. Generally, only a pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, Federal civil service and some State or local government agencies) may cause the amount of your Social Security benefit to be reduced. Your Social Security benefits can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Windfall Elimination Provision and The Government Pension Offset.

        • mj

          My name is MJ Henderson. I had a total hip replacement Dec. 2 2015 and I need one more . I can barely walk. I use a walker, sometimes a cane, I go to pain management . My Ortho can’t do my Hip for another 3 months. Now when I was recovering from my first surgery ( I just found this out SS was sending me a bunch of mail ) asking me to sign some stuff so they could Look into my bank.. I didn’t know that I was recovering. Well they turned it off in March2016 and to my Surprise , with my lawyers hip and my Ortho Surgeon I was able to get it turned back on. But there was something in the writing in the letter they last sent me on the 28th of March. About Getting a phone call from SS and maybe meeting up with them. Its never str8 forward. Now I am fear full I won’t have any money for rent next month. SNAP cut my benefits to 100 dollars a month, And Diet is so important. My bones are dying. I have a collapsed left hip and a collapsed shoulder and they think its in my left knee and left hand.Its because I’m HIV+ and I took my meds like my doctor told me too, and now I’m rotting from the inside out and I don’t know what to do?? I gave a letter from my landlord what my rent was. I give him a check and then I have to give him cash the rest of the month.. My rent is 600 for a room in a house but its all I can afford, and I only get 734.00 so that’s 150.00 to work with for a whole month. I am sick of people making it sound like i’m living high on the HOG, I am struggling. My birthday was this month and some friends gave me some gift cards. so that helped. I thought this was over last month!!! I’m 90 days from a total hip replacement. Just please pray for me.. I have been calling my local office for weeks and no one has answered me.

          • mj

            One last thing… I wish I could work!!! I wish I could walk, make love, and do everything a 37yo is suppose to do. I am pretty much bed bound. I can’t drive. I can’t walk. This isn’t a life.. I need my legs!!! Please have mercy.. let me get my legs\\

          • Ray F.

            We are sorry to hear that you are having difficulty reaching someone at the local office MJ. Sometimes we experience higher than normal call volume. You can call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213, for assistance in your case. Representatives are available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday but you will generally have a shorter wait time if you call later in the day, or later in the week. Please try again, thanks.

    • Jackie

      Can I ask why you have to pay taxes on your social security the only thing I no is if you are working and getting social security that I understand, but if only getting social security I never heard bout filing taxes on it maybe you no more if you can explain.
      Thank you

  9. Cynthia

    Social Security is a proud part of our United States culture and economy.

  10. Evelyn

    I for one am glad someone realize how important social security is to us I for one have worked over 60 years and still have to work to make a living our social security decreases instead of increases I for one don’t think it is right but please keep our social security going let us have a raise thank you for caring.

    • Ruthann H.

      It is my ONLY income, that comes as a “Federal Benefit Credit” each month, and an annuity check for $12.23 a month. I am not disabled yet. It is too low to pay taxes on, but it is based on a lifetime of work. I was about 17 when I got my SS card number. That was 70 years ago. Not enough cost of living increases in so many years. Wages went from 65 cents an hour to 8.50 an hour when I was hurt and unable to work at my job in 1999.

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