By Jim Haigh, Keep Me Posted
Nearly 180 million American workers currently pay into the Social Security system. But upwards of 150 million of them have not recently viewed an accounting of what they’ve contributed, what Social Security income they can anticipate for retirement and other vital details. This because most stopped receiving an annual paper statement in the mail years ago. And the overwhelming majority cannot or do not access this information online.
The data makes clear that most wage earners do not have essential knowledge about their personal Social Security benefits, which for many will be their primary or significant source of income in their later years.
Fortunately, the solution is simple: direct the Social Security Administration (SSA) to mail all workers aged 25 and older an annual paper statement, just like they did up until 2010. This is precisely what bipartisan legislation recently reintroduced in the U.S. Congress would do. Appropriately named the “Know Your Social Security Act,” the measure has strong support from citizens, consumer groups, advocates for seniors, cybersecurity experts and financial planners.
“AARP believes strongly that all Americans, unless they choose otherwise, should have access to their Social Security statements via mail,” said Bill Sweeney, senior vice president for government affairs at AARP, via letter to the chairs of the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Social Security. “This bipartisan bill would once again place vital paper Social Security statements in the hands of millions of Americans to help them more effectively plan for retirement, identify fraud, correct earnings records and better understand their stake in Social Security.”
The SSA’s failure to treat annual paper statements as essential public notices and its assumption that wage earners under 60 will hunt for statements online ignores the stubborn realities of the digital divide. Even the SSA’s own Inspector General concluded that overall access to crucial information fell off a cliff since the primarily online-only policy took effect.
“Compared to 2010 when 155 million Social Security statements were mailed to U.S. wage earners, the Inspector General’s report shows that just 31 million Americans received a statement in 2018 – either online or by mail,” observed Consumer Action Director of National Priorities Linda Sherry at the time the report was released. “In other words, well over 149 million wage earners are missing this essential foundation to their retirement security.”
Problem is, the number of those digitally disenfranchised by the SSA has continued to grow, with only 14.6 million of the nearly 180 million workers eligible to receive a paper statement getting one each year in their mailbox. And only 16.7 million are accessing their statements online according to the latest data provided by sponsors of this important legislation. The SSA has ignored the lack of reliable or affordable internet service for tens of millions of Americans as well as their reasonable cybersecurity fears related to sharing sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers online.
The bottom line need for the Know Your Social Security Act says Sherry, is this: “All evidence indicates that the vast majority of Americans simply do not receive their statements at all – online or otherwise.” The Know Your Social Security Act would finally restore full access to every worker aged 25 and older to how much they earned in a given year, their total contributions to both Social Security and Medicare, an estimate of their Social Security benefit at full retirement age and the benefit their family would receive when they pass away.