Is the “Security” in Social Security an Oxymoron?

Social Security was originally designed to be a supplement to retirement income—one leg of a “three-legged stool” that also included employer pensions and personal savings. Yet it has become the primary source of income for millions of people. With an average payment, as of June 2019, of $1,503/month—$1,297 for women and $1,627 for men—it hardly offers the security implied by its name. 

Fewer than 15 percent of today’s workers have pensions, and decades of flat wages, combined with the Great Recession and now, a global pandemic, have decimated what little savings many people had managed to put aside. As a result, today:

  • 25 percent of all seniors depend on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
  • If we break this down by gender, looking only at the universe of currently unmarried women (a high percentage of retirees, thanks to women’s greater life expectancy), nearly half (48%) fall into this category. 

What does this mean for the quality of life of those who depend entirely, or almost entirely, on Social Security?

Consider that kitchen table session where you chart the family budget. $1,503 doesn’t come anywhere near covering the basic necessities of living in the United States today:

  • Median rent alone across the country is $1,650/month, according to the real estate database Zillow. Rent in an expensive urban area like New York City averages over $3,700/month
  • Meanwhile Americans over age 65 spend, on average, about $560/month on healthcare costs, including about $50/month on prescriptions. These numbers are far higher for those with serious or chronic health conditions, of course.
  • The cost of groceries averages $325/month nationwide, but can be $100 or more higher in many parts of the country. 

The picture these numbers paint is stark. Based on the cost of housing alone, too many retirees are living in sub-optimal housing—if they are lucky enough to have housing at all. And they are being forced to make some untenable choices. 

The ongoing healthcare debate in this country frequently surfaces news stories about men and women who must choose between food and vital medicines. These are (rightly) couched as stories about the obscenely high cost of healthcare in the U.S., but they also tell another story—at least for some. Far too many older people are trying to live on an income that is completely unsustainable. 

No wonder homelessness and dangerous choices to live in substandard assisted living nursing homes pose an ongoing peril to seniors surviving on the edge of poverty.

When skeptics of Social Security suggest that cuts in the program are needed, how do they plan to square this circle? We do not believe it can be squared. Cuts to Social Security will be deadly to millions of Americans—period. If you agree, join our campaign by signing the pledge.  

Support our Campaign by signing the Pledge at:


Leave a Reply

Other Blog Posts

Sign Up to be a Mobilizer Today!

Interested in learning more about the Respectful Exits campaign and how you can contribute to a bigger and brighter future for aging workers? Sign up with your email address and we will keep you informed.