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Friday, October 28, 2016

Social Security Does More Than Just Protect The Elderly

On the 77th anniversary of Social Security, we’re celebrating what has made the program so important and why it continues to be vital today. Tim Price writes that through survivors benefits, Social Security creates a widely shared safety net. Read the rest of our coverage here.

A growing number of pundits and policymakers talk about Social Security almost exclusively as a luxury for greedy seniors. But as I learned when my father passed away a week before my high school graduation, Social Security is much more than just a retirement fund (though that is an extremely important function and has rescued millions of seniors from poverty). Through its survivors benefits, it provides some guarantee of security to families of all ages and creates a safety net that many never expect to need.

As my colleague Mark Schmitt has noted, survivors benefits were established four years after the original Social Security Act was passed, but today they are an integral part of the program. As of December 2011, they accounted for 11 percent of total benefits paid, covering 6.3 million people with an average monthly benefit of $1,190. Of the beneficiaries, over 1.9 million are children, with aged spouses and parents of deceased workers accounting for another 4 million. A report from the Children’s Defense Fund notes that the value of survivors benefits for a typical family is equivalent to a $433,000 life insurance policy.

These benefits help families to pick up the pieces when tragedy strikes, allowing them to pay the rent, put food on the table, and afford other necessities despite losing a breadwinner. In this way, Social Security not only prevents financial catastrophe from compounding personal grief, but also gives workers the comfort of knowing that they will still be able to provide for their families after they’re gone. No one knows this better than newly minted vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who saved up the benefits he received after his father’s death to pay his way through college so that he could one day run for Congress and draft a plan to dismantle Social Security.

Okay, maybe that’s not the best example. Instead, I’ll draw from personal experience. As noted above, my father passed away when I was only 17 years old. On the night I was supposed to be working on a second draft of my valedictorian speech, I instead sat with my mother in a waiting room in Richmond University Medical Center, waiting for a doctor to tell us what we both already knew. My father had suffered a massive heart attack at age 45; after years of poor health, it seemed both sudden and inevitable.

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  • CooofNJ

    Amen brother! Thank you for pointing this out. I too was the recipient of SS survivors benefits. Because I am older than you I received them for the same amount of time that Paul Ryan did – until I turned 23 or left school. My family used those benefits when I was young (my dad died when I was a year old) – and even then it was a struggle (my mom was a secretary and waitress with 5 kids). I used the benefits to help me get through college and then got half way through grad school before they ran out. I absolutely, positively would NOT have made it through grad school without them.

    The false narrative that the benefits are somehow “generous” is wrong, and the even more false narrative that the Democrats “will not compromise on entitlements” is also absolutely false. As my, and Mr. Ryan’s, experience shows a great deal of compromise has already occurred. The age at which survivors “age-out” has dropped (from 23 to 19), the age for full retirement has increased (mine is 67), and other myriad changes have occurred to rein in spending. Yet for some reason the narrative continues that the Democrats will not compromise. It is amazing!

    You never know when you may be the one who has to use the benefits. That’s what we put them in place for – to provide a floor for those who were dealt a bad hand in life. We are all in this together!

  • I was 16 when my father died back in 1959. I believe the Ryan’s father passed when Paul was the same age. The funds my mom received for my care helped a great deal until I turned 21. Without those funds I dare say both of lives would have been far worse. It is hard enough losing a parent and bread winner, but Social Security made it a little easier. The big difference between Paul and I is that I want the program to continue in its present form. That can easily happen with some small adjustements. Turning it over to Wall Street is not one of those.