SOCIAL SECURITY AT 85: THE BEDROCK OF RETIREMENT SECURITY IN AMERICA

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.  Today, 85 years later, the program is the bedrock of retirement security in America.  And, the economic freefall caused by the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on how crucial Social Security is for both current beneficiaries and future generations. 

It is the only guaranteed source of income for older Americans once they leave the workforce.  And, for many, it is the primary way they pay the bills and put food on the table.  A little more than 43% of Americans age 65+ -- that’s more than 21 million people --  count on Social Security for at least half of their income, including 10 million for whom it makes up 90% or more. 

For older women, the numbers are even higher.  A little more than 46% of all 65+ women rely on Social Security for at least half of their income, including 48% of African-American and 42% of Hispanic/Latina women.  And, the program’s benefits account for 90% or more of income for close to 30% of African-American women and more than a quarter of Hispanic/Latina women.

Looking ahead ten or twenty years, the importance of this vital program will be even greater. Job losses from the pandemic have hit workers age 55+ hard, with unemployment increasing from 3.3% in March to 8.8% in July.  It’s 9.6% for 55+ women.  We know from AARP research during and after the Great Recession that older Americans who lost their jobs were more likely than younger workers to have extended periods of unemployment lasting six months or more.  Those that were able to re-enter the workforce often had to take jobs for lower pay or fewer hours, which undermines their ability to save for retirement.  Many will likely retire earlier and with less money set aside than they had planned, making Social Security benefits even more critical.

Even in today’s hyperpartisan, divisive climate, Social Security is incredibly popular across age groups and political parties.  In a new AARP survey, more than 90% of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents age 18+ say that it is an important program.  And, around 80% across party lines said they will rely on Social Security benefits for at least some of their retirement income.  Large majorities are concerned that they could be wiped out financially at any time by a major health care expense or economic downturn. 

They are counting on the promise of Social Security, and they are nervous about the programs’ future.  Two-thirds think the average monthly benefit of $1,503 is too low.  Three-quarters are concerned that their benefits won’t be enough to make ends meet.  And, the same proportion aren’t sure that Social Security will be there for them when they need it. 

AARP’s position is crystal clear. We oppose cuts to Social Security benefits AND policies that put the future of the program in jeopardy.  The program is too important and the future for millions of Americans is too uncertain to do any less.  This election year, AARP will help 50+ voters make their voice heard.  And, we’ll be urging candidates to lay out their plans to strengthen Social Security for current and future generations. 

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