Publication Date

April 2008

Abstract

[Excerpt] Social Security has significantly reduced elderly poverty. The elderly poverty rate has fallen from 35% in 1959 to an all-time low of 9% in 2006, in large part because of Social Security. If Social Security benefits did not exist, an estimated 44% the elderly would be poor today assuming no changes in behavior. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, also provides benefits to the poorest elderly, many of whom do not qualify for Social Security benefits. However, despite these programs, about 3.4 million elderly individuals remained in poverty in 2006.

The Social Security system faces a long-term financing problem. The Social Security Trustees project cash-flow deficits beginning in 2017 and trust fund insolvency in 2041. Many recent proposals to improve system solvency would reduce Social Security benefits in the future. Benefit reductions could affect the low income elderly, many of whom rely on Social Security benefits for almost all of their income. Such potential benefit reductions could lead to higher rates of poverty among the elderly compared to those projected under the current benefit formula. Because the low- income elderly are especially vulnerable to benefit deductions, many recent Social Security reform proposals have included minimum benefits or other provisions that would mitigate the effect of benefit cuts on the elderly poor.

This report analyzes the projected effects of four possible approaches to mitigating the effects of Social Security benefit reductions on elderly poverty in 2042, the first full year of projected trust fund insolvency. The options are compared to a payable baseline, which assumes current-law benefits would need to be cut across the board to balance Social Security’s annual income and spending at the point of insolvency. The four options examined are (1) a poverty-line Social Security minimum benefit; (2) a sliding-scale Social Security minimum benefit; (3) a poverty-line SSI benefit; and (4) a poverty-line SSI benefit with liberalized eligibility.

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Suggested Citation
Romig, K. (2008). Social security reform: Possible effects on the elderly poor and mitigation options (RS34433). Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/key_workplace/506/

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