Social Security Is Increasingly Crucial To Kids, Report Finds

Some 6.4 million children rely on the benefits of a program that has traditionally served as a lifeline to retirees.
PhotoAlto/Jerome Gorin via Getty Images

Move over, grandma and grandpa: Your grandkids need Social Security, too.

Some 6.4 million American children ― 9 percent of all U.S. kids ― either receive Social Security directly or rely on someone who does, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a progressive think tank, argues that Social Security’s increasingly important role as a source of income for children is partially the result of the flat wages affecting many American workers.

The new paper analyzes Current Population Survey and Social Security Administration data to measure Social Security’s impact on Americans under age 18 in 2014, the most current year available.

The nonprofit’s findings are significant because while the Social Security Administration counts the number of children who receive Social Security directly as beneficiaries, it does not count indirect beneficiaries, including children living in households with adults who receive benefits ― such as grandparents or other relatives. (Children under age 18 can receive Social Security benefits directly if one of their parents has died, or if they have a parent receiving benefits as a retired or severely disabled worker.)

Of the 6.4 million children who benefited from Social Security in 2014, nearly 3.2 million received benefits directly and over 3.2 million received them indirectly, the Center for Global Policy Solutions estimates.

In 2001, by contrast, there were 5.2 million children benefiting from the program in total. The vast majority of the increase was due to growth in the number of children receiving benefits indirectly ― a figure that jumped by nearly 50 percent from 2001 to 2014.

The report attributes that rise to the growing number of American seniors. In addition, and perhaps more significantly, the report maintains that income stagnation is prompting Americans to live in multigenerational houses where they can pool their resources.

“As household incomes have stagnated or declined over the past few decades, Social Security income has become an even more important component of financial resources for families with children who receive benefits,” the report notes.

The Social Security Administration does not offer data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of kids who rely on the program. Here, too, the Center’s report fills in key gaps, highlighting how Social Security is especially helpful to children in communities of color, which have higher child poverty rates.

“As household incomes have stagnated or declined over the past few decades, Social Security income has become an even more important component of financial resources for families with children who receive benefits.”

- Center for Global Policy Solutions

Direct and indirect Social Security benefits reduce poverty among all children by 17 percentage points, according to the report. Among African-American children in particular, the percent reduction in poverty is about the same ― but since the poverty rate is already so high in this group, the reductions are all the more essential. Without Social Security, nearly 58 percent of black children would live in poverty, compared to the current rate of 40 percent.

Black children are also more likely than other children to live in multigenerational homes where they benefit from Social Security through a family member.

The Center for Global Policy Solutions’ report aims to strengthen the case for expanding Social Security benefits, which has become a core aspect of the progressive agenda in recent years. The report notes that increasing revenue for Social Security by lifting the cap on earnings subject to Social Security taxes, among other changes, could be used to improve benefits for the poorest households. It also embraces reinstating the student benefit, which was cut in 1981 and allowed young people ages 18 to 22 to retain benefits they held prior to high school graduation if they pursued full-time post-secondary studies.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has embraced expanding Social Security. While Clinton has not endorsed a specific plan to do so, she has emphasized enhancing benefits for the most vulnerable groups.

The Democratic Party made expansion of Social Security benefits part of its official platform last weekend.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said he will protect Social Security from cuts, but has not endorsed expanding the program.

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