America’s Social Security program is turning 80 years old this year, but some believe it’s somewhat of an auspicious anniversary, more reason for caution and nail-biting than celebration. But no matter if you love it or lump it, there is no debating that Social Security has been one of the single most significant, ambitious, and helpful government programs in the history of the world. And while the particulars of Social Security are covered ad nauseam in other financial articles and guides, we thought we’d cover 30 things you probably didn’t know about 80-year old Social Security.
1. On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act that made the Social Security program law.
2. The program was founded because so many Americans had just lost all of their assets and savings in the Great Depression, leaving them nothing for retirement.
3. 80 years later, 165 million workers are currently covered under Social Security, including 46.6 million seniors age 65 or older.
4. And about 60 million Americans currently receive Social Security benefits, adding up to $863 billion of payouts.
5. To put it in perspective, that amount is the largest item on our federal budget and accounts for about a quarter of all spending.
6. Within the next two decades, the number of SS beneficiaries should grow to 90 million.
7. Compare the huge number of Social Security retirees today to the program’s first year of benefit payouts, 1940, when only 220,000 Americans were signed up.
8. In fact, Social Security's first beneficiary was a woman named Ida May Fuller from Ludlow, Vermont, who received monthly payments of $22.54 a month for 35 years.
9. FDR’s original Social Security program only paid benefits to retired workers. But later on, the program was expanded to offer disability benefits and payments for a beneficiary's spouse and children for widows and widowers.
10. The average monthly payment for SS benefits now is $1,221, or $14,700 a year.
11. Since Social Security first collected tax contributions in 1937, it’s collected more than $13 trillion in income and paid our $10.6 trillion, as of 2007.
12. That amount of money that flows in and out of Social Security is so enormous that each year, it manages more money than the economies of all but the 16 richest countries in the world!
13. Each day, 182,000 people visit Social Security offices, and 445,000 people call the Social Security Administration.
14. Just last year, there were 17 million applications to replace lost, damaged, or stolen original Social Security cards!
15. 2010 was the first year that Social Security disbursements outpaced its income, if you don’t count interest on trust-fund assets. Even factoring in that interest, disbursements should outpace income by 2021, and that interest is expected to be completely exhausted by 2033.
16. Only 8% of American workers are very confident and only 24% somewhat confident that Social Security will continue to provide benefits of at least equal value to today’s retirees and recipients.
17. 33% of today’s workers say that Social Security will be a major source of income when they retire, compared to 46% who say it will only be a minor source of income and 20% who say they won’t count on it for income at all.
18. Today, the average retiree gets 12 more years of Social Security benefits than a person did in 1940 due to the fact that we’re living longer AND retiring earlier (an average age of 64 instead of 68 in 1950.)
19. And while Social Security is still the largest source of income for Americans over 65, only one in three people depend on it to cover 90 percent.
20. Thanks to the increase in elder Americans (Baby Boomers), the Recession’s impact on stagnating wages, and a larger population receiving benefits, there are less than three workers paying into Social Security for every one retiree eligible for a payout.
21. That’s a sharp drop from 2009, when there were 3 workers per retiree, and 1960, when there were 5 workers paying into the system for ever person collecting a check.
22. In fact, 75 million Americans are on the cusp of retirement and being eligible for Social Security payouts, as each day, 10,000 more people turn 65 and the oldest of the Baby Boomers generation turn 68 this year.
23. Each American citizen is assigned a Social Security number, shortly after birth since 1989. But many people don’t realize that those 9-digit combinations are not random. In fact, the first three digits are based on the geographic region you were born in, with lower numbers in the Northeast and higher numbers in the West. The middle two numbers are called the group number and issued in nonconsecutive order between 01 and 99. Meanwhile, the last four digits are issued sequentially. So far, there have been 420 million unique Social Security numbers that aren’t being reused after the person’s death.
24. To save money, Social Security is phasing out paper checks. It actually costs them $1 to mail out each paper check, while electronic deposits and transfers only cost 1/10th of that. Does it sound like small change? In fact, going paperless is expected to save taxpayers $300 million over the next five years!
25. The Social Security Administration is in dire straights, both financially and operationally. In fact, over the past three years, the SSA has lost 11,000 employees, about 12% of its workforce, and by 2022, about 60% of its supervisors will be able to retire. Additional budget cuts have forced 44 field offices to consolidate, 503 mobile contact stations to close, and eight new hearing offices to be suspended. Even call centers are under siege, with average wait times when someone calls in now over 10 minutes, when it used to be only 5 minutes as recently as 2012.
26. The struggles of Social Security have been so well documented that we could easily write another book about its impending financial hardship. But basically, by 2016, the trust fund that supports Social Security’s disability payments is expected to be empty. If (when) that happens, the 11 million people who now receive Social Security disability payments will see an automatic 19 percent cut in benefits.
27. The math gets even scarier when you consider that over the next 75 years, Social Security is projected to payout $159 trillion MORE in benefits than it collects in taxes.
28. If we adjusted that number for future inflation, that means our Social Security program will be underfunded by about $35.3 trillion in 2015 dollars. Just how big of a gap is that? $35.3 trillion is TWICE the entire national debt!
29. It’s not a complete doom and gloom scenario, as Congress is already floating some ideas to remedy this shortfall and get Social Security back on track. However, solutions include increasing SS taxes, cutting benefits, and pushing back the retirement age – none of which are very popular with the American people.
30. But even a payroll tax increase of 1.3 percent, benefit cut of 16.2 percent, or any combination thereof, would right the projected Social Security deficit and allow the program to remain solvent for about another 80 years – in time for another birthday celebration.