Children and Social Security: 4 Surprising Facts You Never Knew

Source: Social Security Administration.

Social Security pays benefits to nearly 58 million Americans, and the vast majority of those receiving payments from Social Security are retirees and near-retirees aged 62 or older. But what many people don't realize is that Social Security also provides benefits to children, who make up a surprisingly large portion of the Social Security population.

The Social Security Administration recently came out with a report on Social Security (link opens PDF) that includes a number of surprising facts about the children who get benefits from the program. Here are four things about children's benefits that most Americans would never imagine were true.

1. More than 3.4 million children get Social Security benefits
About 6% of all Social Security recipients are children. Under Social Security's provisions, most children under the age of 18 are eligible to receive benefits if they have a parent receiving retirement or disability benefits. In addition, high-school students who have already reached their 18th birthday can continue getting benefits until they graduate or until two months after they turn 19, whichever comes first.

Source: SSA Master Beneficiary Record, 100 percent data.

Because of the age at which most parents have children, relatively few retirees have children who are young enough to receive benefits. But more than 3 million children get Social Security because of a parent's disability or death.

2. Children receive more than $1.8 billion monthly from Social Security
The Social Security Administration found that the typical child receives an average of $541 monthly from Social Security. How much kids receive depends a lot on the reason why they're getting benefits.

Children of deceased workers earned the most, in large part because the law makes their benefits more generous. Surviving children get 75% of their parent's primary insurance amount. By contrast, children of retired or disabled workers get only half of their parent's amount.

3. The number of children receiving Supplemental Security Income benefits has skyrocketed over the past 40 years
The Supplemental Security Income program provides support to those in financial need who are 65 or older, as well as adults and children who are disabled or blind. According to the SSA, the program currently serves 8.4 million Americans, paying on the basis of need as measured by strict income limits and restrictions on the amount of other available financial resources. About one of every six SSI recipients is under the age of 18.

When SSI began in 1974, just over 70,000 blind and disabled children qualified for benefits. That number has since soared to more than 1.3 million. Moreover, the average benefit amount has climbed substantially over that time, with current payments of $631 per child showing the impact that inflation has had over that 40-year time span.

4. Children get surprisingly high benefits compared to workers' spouses
That children get benefits at all is surprising to many, but what even fewer people know is that in many cases, children's benefits can be similar to or even higher than what a worker's spouse receives. That's largely because the formulas that govern spousal benefits and children's benefits are similar in most cases, differing substantially only in determining survivors' benefits.

The SSA report shows that the typical spouse of a retired worker receives an average of $648 in spousal benefits, while children's benefits average $632. For disabled workers, children actually edge out spousal awards, with kids getting an average of $341 compared to $308 for spouses.

Among survivors of deceased workers, though, the results are mixed. With surviving children getting $814 on average, surviving spouses who are not disabled get more than half again as much, averaging $1,244 in monthly benefits. But disabled widows and widowers get less than the typical child, with an average of just $717.

Many people never realize that children can claim any Social Security benefits. But especially in cases where the unexpected happens to a parent, children's benefits can greatly help families make it through hard times.

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