It’s Not Sexy – It’s Social Security!


Few women get excited about Social Security, the most successful and efficient effort undertaken by the federal government. I know, I know, I’ve heard all the excuses – all those numbers, it’s something retirees worry about, and anyway, it probably won’t even be there when we get old. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. If you are a woman, or if you have children, you need to be aware.

A storm is brewing over the amount of debt the US government has incurred, and sounds of sabers rattling grows ever louder in Washington. Some powerful members of Congress have painted a big target on the Social Security system, and I expect to hear a lot of misleading, distorting statements in the next week or so. Most Americans just don’t know as much as they should about the social safety net that protects us. Here are a few facts to keep in mind as you try to filter through the hue and cry.

There’s more to Social Security than retirement benefits. If a worker with a family dies, his surviving spouse and children will receive monthly payments roughly equal to a $450,000 life insurance policy (based on average earnings and two children). This can keep the family together after a devastating loss and soften the economic loss of a parent, spouse, and breadwinner.

Social Security covers Our Troops and Their Families. Troops returning from war who are disabled receive Social Security benefits, as do their dependent family members. Soldiers killed in action make their families eligible for benefits as well. The children who lost a parent, and the spouses who were widowed, in the attacks of September 11, 2001, are receiving benefits now.

Social Security also protects disabled workers and their families. If a worker suffers a physical or mental disability which makes employment impossible, in the course of his or her job or otherwise, that worker can receive disability benefits to partially replace the lost salary or wages. On average, such benefits amount to those provided by a $400,000 disability insurance policy.

A full third of Social Security beneficiaries are not retired at all. They are disabled workers, their families, and surviving spouses and children of deceased workers. In other words, about 15 million non-retired Americans rely on Social Security benefits to stay financially afloat.

More than half of the Social Security checks issued every month are made out to women. More women than men depend on this federal program for a greater share of their monthly income. Women live longer, earn less, save less, and spend more time out of the work force. Women depend more on Social Security than men or children. This is why any cut to benefits, for the purpose of balancing the budget or anything else, will send more women plunging into poverty.

When you hear that the only responsible thing to do is reduce benefits under Social Security, take a minute to think about all the ways this could affect your life and the lives of the people you love. There are other ways to balance the budget without devastating the economic security of millions of Americans, the majority of them women. It might not be so responsible, after all.

For more information: Nancy Altman, noted Social Security expert gives the big picture here.

Click here for a breakdown of beneficiaries into groups by The Institute for Women’s Policy Research.


  • Shannon

    Very timely Valerie. I just tried to make the argument to my Introduction to American politics students that they too should care about Social Security. Hopefully, people will get the message!

  • LindaJ

    The past focus on the Social Security program's financial viability included much misinformation. Thanks for the wake up call and for helping all of us wade through the rhetoric.