Overlooked but Not Forgotten: Social Security Lifts Millions More Children Out of Poverty

by: Peter Arno, Jeannette Wicks-Lim

August 01, 2016 |
Published Study

Social Security's role in lifting millions of Americans out of poverty has been widely documented. However, the national focus on the program's income assistance for senior citizens has obscured the fact that Social Security is also one of the federal government's largest antipoverty programs for children. In 2014, there were 3.2 million children under age 18 directly receiving Social Security income benefits either as the surviving dependent of a parent or guardian who had died, or the dependent of a disabled worker or retiree. Yet, the number of children benefitting from Social Security is commonly underestimated. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and the Social Security Administration's Annual Statistical Supplement, this paper demonstrates an undercount in the number of children benefitting from Social Security. When children who are not direct beneficiaries but live in extended families that receive Social Security benefits are added to the official figure, the number of children who benefit from the program doubles to 6.4 million, which represents 9 percent of all U.S. children.

This study expands existing research about Social Security by demonstrating its impact on mitigating poverty by examining its effect on children living in extended households that receive benefits, a trend that has been growing for more than a decade, with results stratified by race/ethnicity.

 

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