Social Security is a lifeline for diverse older adults

Social Security is the single most important financial safety net program for older adults and makes the difference between poverty and a living-wage retirement for a significant portion of older Americans. While Social Security benefits are modest (the average benefit is about $13,000 per year), they are a vital part of lifting diverse elders out of poverty. It is estimated that fifty-four million depend on the program—that’s 1 out of every 6 people. Without this source of income, available research shows that 53% of African Americans, 49% of Latinos, and 19% of Asian American elders would fall below the poverty line.


For elders who are unable to obtain U.S. Citizenship, there are severe challenges. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a crucial lifeline for refugees who are elderly or disabled and who also live in poverty. For many elderly and disabled refugees, the federal SSI program provides the bare minimum for survival—no more than $698 per month for an individual and $1,048 for a couple. As part of the 1996 Welfare Reform laws, SSI was restricted to a 7-year limit for elderly and disabled refugees and humanitarian immigrants who are not able to obtain U.S. citizenship within that time frame. As a result, thousands of elderly and disabled refugees have lost, and will continue to lose, their benefits. U.S. citizenship needs to be delinked from eligibility for SSI.


Due to low-education levels or immigration status, many diverse elders have worked years at a job that required them to be on their feet and mobile throughout the day.  For this reason, and others, they are unable to work until they reach their full retirement age and therefore must take early retirement. This causes diminished benefit for the rest of their lives relative to if they had retired at the full retirement age. Despite these harsh realities, there are many arguments to further increase the retirement age from 67 to 69, which could result in a 13% cut in benefits.


Policymakers considered cutting additional Social Security benefits under the guise of the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI). This policy would have reduced the rate at which Social Security’s cost of living adjustment increases. This policy would have cost older adults thousands of dollars of benefits they earned over their entire life. We urged our nation’s leaders to not implement these cuts and in 2014, we applauded the administration when they announced that the chained CPI Social Security cut would be not be in President Obama’s budget for 2015.

To learn more about Social Security and diverse elders, download our report Securing Our Future: Advancing Economic Security for Elders of Color, American Indian and Native Alaskan Elders, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Elders.