Many people think of Social Security as a retirement program. But Social Security plays a role in most people's lives. It provides valuable protection for you and your family against the loss of income resulting from your retirement, death or disability. Forty percent of the 42 million people receiving Social Security benefits are not retired workers, they are the spouses and children of retired workers or are receiving disability or survivors benefits as the spouse, children, widow(er) or parents of retired, deceased, or disabled workers.
When a worker's earnings stop or are decreased because of retirement, long-term disability, or death, Social Security benefits replace a portion of the earnings. How important is this protection to the average person? About 42 percent of men and 30 percent of women will die or become disabled before reaching their retirement years. About 98 percent of the children under 18 and their mothers or fathers (with children under age 16) can count on monthly cash benefits if a working parent dies. About four out of five men and women between 21 and 64 can count on monthly cash benefits if the wage earner becomes disabled.
Benefits paid to the worker with a spouse and two or more children may replace as much as 90 percent of prior earnings for low-income families. In 1994, the average family benefit paid to a widow(er) and two children was $1,328; for a disabled worker and spouse with one or more children, it was $1,088. The maximum benefit payable to a widower and two children of a worker who died at age 25 was $2,430 and $2,073 for a worker who became disabled at age 25 with one child.
To qualify for retirement benefits, a worker needs to have worked at least 10 years in a job covered under Social Security. The worker can qualify for survivors and disability benefits for his or her family with as little as 1-1/2 years of work. The amount of work needed increases depending on the worker's age at the time of death or disability.
Benefits are paid to children, wives and husbands, widows and widowers, whether divorced or still married, on the earnings record of an insured worker. Grandchildren and dependent parents of a deceased worker may also qualify for benefits under certain circumstances.
You should know about Social Security benefits when you make plans for your family's financial future. Social Security provides a base of income, it does not completely replace earnings. You need to know how much you and/or your family can expect from Social Security. Call Social Security toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and request a Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement. Complete the form and in about 3 weeks you will receive information as to how much you and your family could receive in benefits.
If you have any questions regarding Social Security benefits for you or your family or have any other Social Security questions, please call toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.