3 Common Questions About Social Security Answered

Social security is a perennially hot topic. Between frequent media hype and the policy changes ushered in by ever-shifting political administrations, social security is on just about everyone’s mind. In the sea of buzz, it’s easy to latch onto false ideas about social security, so here are three of the most common myths — and the truth behind them.



1. What is Social Security?

People tend to think of social security as one big program: that when you “apply for social security,” that’s that. In reality, “social security” is actually a catch-all umbrella term for a few different sub-types of social security, which are discussed at length here. In a nutshell, “social security” refers to two separate programs, known as SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance). The former is need-based, with a requirement that applicants be living below a given income level and have limited access to financial resources. The latter, conversely, requires that applicants have already paid a certain amount into the system — hence “insurance.” Some people do qualify for and receive both, which is referred to as “concurrent benefits.”

2. Is Social Security Only for the Elderly?

Another common myth about social security is that it’s only for the elderly. Statistically speaking, it’s easy to at least see why this has become a persistent notion. After all, according to the SSA (Social Security Administration), “Nine out of ten individuals age 65 and older receive social security benefits,” and, “Social security benefits represent about 39% of the income of the elderly.” But while it’s true that social security is financially significant to the elderly segment of the population, they aren’t alone. In 2006, the most recent data available, the SSA reports over a million social security recipients were actually children and people under the age of 18 — nearly 15% of all recipients in total.


3. Is it Easy to Receive Social Security?

Many people have an idea that, since so many people — in particular the elderly — do receive social security benefits, it must be virtually automatic: you age, you get social security. It would be nice if that were true, but the unfortunate reality is that a huge number of social security applicants are actually rejected, particularly on the first attempt. While estimates vary, most agencies report that anywhere from 50% to approximately 70% of all social security applications are at least initially rejected. In 2010, over 700,000 applicants were denied. The reasons for SSA rejections in 2010 ranked by order are:

  • over 30% of rejections — “able to do other kind of work”
  • over 24% of rejections — “able to do usual past work”
  • over 23% of rejections — “impairment is not severe”
  • over 17% of rejections — “other”
  • nearly 5% of rejections — “impairment did not or is not expected to last 12 months”

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