What You Need to Know About Social Security

Written by

Talia Whyte
Talia Whyte Talia Whyte is an independent journalist based in Boston.

Congress is currently debating to make serious cuts in Social Security. Some analysts in Washington believe that the cuts are necessary to help the country out of its economic downturn.  However, any changes in the program will severely affect all recipients, particularly African-Americans.


Social security is a federally funded program that provides financial support for retirees, disabled individuals and dependent survivors.  It was signed into law in 1935 under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to provide for a stronger security blanket following the Great Depression, when poverty among senior citizens exceeded 50 percent.  Social Security is one of the largest government programs in the world, paying out billions of dollars every year.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately “20 percent of the budget, or $707 billion, paid for Social Security, which provided retirement benefits averaging $1,175 per month to 34.6 million retired workers in December 2010.”  President Obama has cited that “social security is not the cause of our deficit.”  He said he would reduce the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, and confirmed that reform must strengthen the program as well as ensure its long-term solvency.

“But we have to do it without putting at risk current retirees, or the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market,” Obama said in a April 13 speech.

In February AARP and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies produced the report, African-Americans and Social Security: a Primer, examining the issues more closely.  The report shows that many African American retirees heavily depend on the program for most of their cost of living expenses.   Two in five households of retired African Americans age 65 or older receive Social Security retirement benefits.

“Many African-Americans work in lower wage jobs, such as farm labor and domestic work, and pay less into the system” said report author Dr. Wilhelmina Leigh to GlobalPolicy.TV.  “Having a low paying job doesn’t make it possible to save properly for retirement.  Many blacks also suffer longer periods of unemployment and a lack of education in financial planning.”

The report also cites that African Americans are less likely than their white counterparts to collect retirement benefits due to shorter life spans.  Blacks are also more likely than whites to receive disability and survivor benefits.

Black children would also suffer from cuts, as they are twice as likely to receive survivor benefits as whites.  Twenty percent of black children receive disability benefits, although they make up only 15 percent of the country’s child population.

“I don’t think many people on both sides of the aisle realize the consequences of program cuts,” Leigh said.  “If we have to make cuts, many people will suffer for years to come.”