Social Security is among the nation’s largest programs serving children. About 4.4 million American children receive approximately $2.7 billion in Social Security benefits each month because at least one of their parents is disabled, retired or deceased. Although Social Security is well known as an essential source of retirement security for older Americans, there is less awareness of the critical income protection it has provided for survivors since 1939, and for the disabled since 1956. Social Security is a safety net for millions of working parents who may have no other resources to fall back on when tragedy strikes and they are no longer able to earn an income to support their family. From clothing and feeding their children to buying needed supplies, paying healthcare costs and saving for college, parents and grandparents understand that Social Security benefits are a stabilizing source of income for children ages birth to eighteen.
Americans today are increasingly concerned that they will not have saved enough money to provide for a reasonable standard of living in retirement. When people were asked in a recent survey which they fear most – death or outliving their money in retirement – nearly two-thirds chose running out of money.[i] Only 17 percent of American workers say they are “very” confident in their ability to live comfortably throughout retirement, and another 47 percent are “somewhat” confident in their ability to retire comfortably.
Medicare, combined with Social Security, has improved the economic status of older Americans and younger people with disabilities. Prior to Medicare, one-half of older Americans were uninsured and one-third were living in poverty. Today, with access to health care coverage, the poverty rate for seniors is nine percent.
Although the economic security of seniors has improved, it remains fragile. Forty percent of seniors depend on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. In 2013, over half of Medicare beneficiaries had annual incomes of less than $23,500, less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More older women than older men are living at or near the federal poverty level. The average income for older women is less than for men ($21,800 compared to $25,850 in 2013) because women have low average Social Security and retirement benefits. This is due to lower-paying or part-time jobs and time away from the workforce for family caregiving.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has a long history of defending the Social Security program from attempts to cut benefits and erode its value as a universal program that enjoys the support of millions of Americans. At the same time, we have fought to improve the program by strengthening and modernizing it for future generations. In May 2012, the National Committee released “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal to Modernize Women’s Benefits.” The report stressed the importance of Social Security to women, how the role of women in society has evolved since the inception of Social Security in the 1930’s, and offered proposals improving the program to meet the needs of today’s women.
Over 67 million low-income people in the U.S. rely on Medicaid for their health coverage.i Medicaid provides health care services to multiple populations, including low-income seniors, people with disabilities, children and some adults. It also provides assistance to low-income Medicare beneficiaries, long-term services and supports (LTSS) to seniors and people with disabilities, and support to safety-net hospitals and health centers. Medicaid is the primary payer for LTSS (not Medicare), and covers 61 percent of LTSS spending.
While Social Security is a program that is vitally important to all Americans, it is especially important to the financial security of women. There are a number of reasons why this is so. First of all, women live longer than men. On average, women today who reach age 65 outlive men by two years. These additional years of longevity increase the risk that women may outlive their savings or that their pensions may lose their purchasing power.