What retirement was like the year you were born

Written by:
August 12, 2020
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What retirement was like the year you were born

Retirement has been an evolving concept over the course of the past 100 years in America, especially in the face of a historical pandemic. While today’s retirees have Social Security, Medicare, and pension plans, rewind a century, and simply making it to retirement age was a feat in and of itself, considering the average life expectancy in 1920 was under 55 years for both men and women. Today, more than half of Americans report COVID-19 has changed the way they view Social Security.

It all began in the 1900s. The economy thrived during the Roaring Twenties and brought about major changes, with many states enacting pension laws for the first time and all federal workers being offered pensions. The ensuing devastation caused by The Great Depression forced lawmakers to move even faster, as the U.S. was the only industrialized nation without unemployment insurance or some form of social safety net.

The Social Security Act of 1935, perhaps the single most important piece of legislation in regards to retirement, changed all that, with workers earning money monthly in their golden years in accordance with payroll contributions. President Harry Truman touted a national health insurance system in 1945, but it wasn’t until 1965 that amendments to the Social Security Act brought about the birth of Medicare. Nearly half of all seniors were without health coverage before that.

While more than 60 million people received Social Security benefits and were covered under Medicare in 2019, the notion of retirement in the near future remains uncertain for most workers.

The ever-changing landscape of retirement prompted Stacker to take a comprehensive look at the past 100 years to see what retirement was like the year you were born. Stacker compiled data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for payments from 1975-2020; pension participation rates from the Department of Labor since 1975; as well as the number of Americans 65 or older from The World Bank via FRED from 1960-2017, and historical statistics pre-1960.

Information about the important milestones and laws affecting retirees and workers is included with each slide. Continue reading to find out what retirement was like the year you were born.

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Lewis W. Hine/George Eastman House // Wikimedia Commons

1920

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 4.6%

In 1919, just 15% of American workers the year prior had pensions. That began to change in 1920, when American industries—including railroads, oil, and banking—began promising employees financial support after retirement. That same year, the Civil Service Retirement Act was passed, giving certain federal employees a pension. The labor force participation rate of male employees aged 65 years and older was 60.1%.

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1921

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 4.7%

The Internal Revenue Act of 1921, which clarified plan tax status, ignited new pension plans. Prior to 1921, employer contributions under a pension or deferred compensation plans weren’t necessarily immune from federal corporate tariff. Public-sector pensions picked up, while all federal workers became entitled to a retirement account. State and local employee pension plans also reportedly increased.

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1922

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 4.8%

Illinois was one of the first states to reduce the retirement age, when SB1922 passed that year. The bill allowed Tier 2 laborers to leave work at 65 years old rather than age 67, and reduced the early retirement age from 62 to 60 years old. Additionally, benefits for those born in 1922 started increasing to meet those of other retirees.

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1923

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 4.8%

The Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS), one of America’s first and largest labor structures, was founded in 1923 and promised workers future security through a multiple-employer, cost-sharing benefit plan. The Social Welfare History Project reports that for a decade between 1923 and 1933, a large number of states created “old age” pension laws and regulations after Pennsylvania, Montana, and Nevada started the trend in 1923.

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1924

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 4.9%

The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 promised World War I veterans bonuses redeemable in 1945; however, the Great Depression would have soldiers cashing in early. U.S. victory in World War I brought global power and a 42% increase in U.S. employment, creating more jobs and pension plans for young and middle-aged workers.

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1925

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.0%

The Employees’ Retirement System of Hawaii (ERS) established in 1925 dictated labor and survivor benefits for state and county employees. That same year, approximately 4,500 miles away, a group of Ohio state employees proposed a retirement structure directly tailored after the 1919 Teachers Retirement System of Ohio.

 

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1926

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.1%

The Revenue Act of 1926 defined all retirement and pension plans as created for "some or all employees," and absolved income trusts from employee's taxable pay. Additionally, impressive economic growth during the time called for a more-significant labor force that would grow faster than the population, inevitably paying more taxes into government coffers, which would be partially reimbursed in a laborer's retirement.

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1927

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.1%

America’s idea of retirement reached beyond its borders with the federal parliament in Canada passing the Old-Age Security Act in 1927, which paid the country's citizens ages 70 and over $20 a month. Pensions totaling $55 million were paid out to 90,000 American retirees in 1927; up to 3.7 million workers were covered by 1929.

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1928

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.2%

Around 1928, on the verge of the Great Depression, laborers were not looking to stop working anytime soon, particularly the elderly. This caused high unemployment among younger workers. While retirement was critical for the economy, senior employees remained immovable.

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1929

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.3%

The year of the stock market crash, unemployment rose to 25%, with each U.S. state offering some social welfare support, especially for retired seniors. While many public utilities, railroads, and large oil, steel, and iron companies had employee pensions, laborers had no legal right to the security. Meanwhile, trade unions began creating and financing their pension plans. Not until 1932 were federally-structured retiree contributions considered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

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1930

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.4%

By the early 1930s, the federal government began to push for mandatory retirement by 60 years old, promising to pay up to $200 a month for retiring sooner. The New York Times reports that the “elderly would work at play,” as technology and retirement communities began to change the notion of life after one's working years. Now leisure time could be filled with golf, movies, and television.

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1931

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.6%

Even the Social Security Administration (SSA) admitted that with a life expectancy of about 60 years old in the 1930s, “people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits.” Meanwhile, the Great Depression began to worsen, primarily affecting seniors, who suffered more from the economic downturn, due to employers preferring younger laborers.

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1932

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.7%

1932 saw complete fallout for banks from the stock market crash, bringing on the hardest years of the Great Depression. At the beginning of the Great Depression, the U.S. was the only industrialized country in the world without any type of unemployment guarantee or social security; however, the election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that year would start the conversation around assistance for the elderly.

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1933

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 5.8%

This year two California crusaders helped change the face of retirement on the West Coast. Between novelist Upton Sinclair, who authored the 12-point End Poverty in California (EPIC) plan that would give retirees age 60 and over $50 a month, and Frances Townsend, who proposed a $200 a month pension under the Townsend Plan, seniors would receive more from the government that taxed them during their careers.

 

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1934

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.0%

In 1934, with the promise of the societal allowance thick in the air, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Committee on Economic Security (CES) to create the first-ever economic security bill, and informed Congress about his plan to prevent poverty-ridden old age. Meanwhile, the Railroad Retirement Act, which was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional, promised track laborers social insurance and eventually passed in 1937.

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1935

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.1%

Maybe the most significant year in retirement history, 1935, marked the beginning of the Social Security Act, a promise to every U.S. worker over the age of 65 that they would receive lifetime payroll contributions after leaving the workforce. Funded by taxes, the act promised unemployment pay, health insurance for the less-fortunate, and financial help for widows and disabled citizens.

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1936

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.3%

After the monumental Social Security Act passed the year prior, the government had to borrow funds from several other federal departments to assure they could operate the administration until January of 1936, when Congress passed all legislation to fund the government pension system. This year, New York citizen John D. Sweeney received the initial social security number, and the first-ever SSA field office opened in Austin Texas.

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1937

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.4%

By 1937, the government was tasked with documenting all employers and workers into a database to record future credit. By June of this year, there were 151 SSA field offices across the U.S. since the 1936 flagship opening in Texas the year before. This year also marked citizens, who had not contributed long enough for future monthly payments, receiving a lump-sum payout of about $58.06 for retirement.

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1938

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.6%

A U.S. recession between 1937-38 dropped the real gross domestic product by 10% and unemployment rose to 20%, making retirement a far-removed notion compared to daily survival. This was also the year the Fair Standard Labor Act formed, along with the Wage and Hour Division that determined the minimum hourly and overtime pay for specific industry labor, all of which got taxed for retirement.

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1939

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.7%

This year marked significant amendments to the Social Security Act, with dependent benefits becoming mandatory. Based on the 1939 changes, the spouse, children, or survivor of a retired worker were entitled to receive their loved one’s funds due to an untimely death.

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1940

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 6.8%

By 1940, up to 15%, or 4.1 million, private-sector employees had pension plans similar to the federal government, expected to fund a minimum number of years before the retiree died. After 1940, pension coverage expanded based on higher individual tax rates, collective bargaining contracts, and wage and price controls, respectively, defined by the U.S. economy.

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1941

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.0%

In 1941, the U.S. Supreme Court held up the constitutionality of the Fair Standard Labor Act (FSLA) that was created in 1938 to determine minimum wage and overtime pay for U.S. citizens. As a result, retirement funds would be based on the taxable amount of income that employees made, based on their profession.

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1942

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.1%

This year, the Social Security Board annual report determined that nonprofit organization employees, who performed the same labor and received pay equal to private sector or federal laborers, were not necessarily eligible for a pension. The Revenue Act of 1942 ultimately determined the benefits and contributions made to individual pension coverage, and the Wage and Salary Act of 1942 froze income for a period based on wartime inflation.

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1943

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.2%

Though the Wage and Salary Act of 1942 froze wages due to wartime inflation, the War Labor Board ordered that the freeze wouldn’t affect fringe benefits, including pension and retirement plans. This was done so that employers could continue to attract laborers with added benefits, including retirement plans, which would, in turn, lessen war-related tax increases on companies and businesses.

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1944

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.3%

The War Mobilization and Reconversion Act of 1944 set up undivided employment training guidelines for upcoming peacetime conversion, helping soldiers succeed as civilians upon returning from World War II battle. The act, which also amended the Social Security Act, created a federal unemployment account within the unemployment trust fund.

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1945

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.5%

By 1945, almost 75% of U.S. citizens paid income taxes, a significant rise compared to the mere 6% who paid six years earlier in 1939. Additionally, the number of pensions offered to employees also rose significantly in five years, with almost 17% of employers offering retirement plans by this year, compared to 12% in 1940.

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1946

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.7%

This year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) formed, replacing the three-person board. The new organization was run by a commissioner. Arthur J. Altmeyer was the first SSA commissioner: He was also the former chairman of the Social Security Board from 1937 to 1946, until he abolished it to form the administration.

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1947

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.8%

The Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947, also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, was formed to restrict unions' power, directly affecting all retirement contracts. It created pension and retirement guidelines that unions had to abide by when offering members fringe benefit packages and a set wage or salary.

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1948

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 7.9%

Only a year after the Taft-Hartley Act, which regulated union bargaining contracts and changed federal labor statutes, the National Labor Relations Board ordered that when discussing bargaining contracts and wage terms, pension, and retirement plans must be part of the conversation.

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1949

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.0%

At this point, shortcomings in the SSA were evident, with significant reforms on the forefront. The NLRB held limited power, unable to resolve labor disputes that directly affected possible bad-faith bargaining.

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1950

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.1%

This year marked significant amendments to the SSA, which at this point had only produced low-level retirement benefits due to reduced payroll taxation amounts at the time. President Harry S. Truman signed new provisions into law that would assure more-secure benefits, while 9.8 million private-sector workers already had retirement plans, and up to 22% of seniors were getting Old Age Assistance (OOA).

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1951

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.3%

The SSA reported there were more Social Security retirees than welfare pensioners by February 1951. By August of that year, the Social Security median pension payoff finally became more significant than prior old-age assistance allocations for the first time.

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1952

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.4%

Social Security amendments of 1952 doubled the value of benefits for retirees: The most significant increase included beneficiaries in the policy. However, CBS later reported some vital lessons to be learned about the retirement of the time: While retirees lived on far less than present-day pensioners, they lived far happier.

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1953

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.5%

With gas at .22 cents a gallon and a postage stamp at .03 cents, the cost of living in 1953 was affordable; however, retirees receiving pension benefits were wise to stay on a fixed budget. President Dwight D. Eisenhower told Congress in the State of the Union address that the "old-age and survivors insurance law should promptly be extended to cover millions of citizens who have been left out of the Social Security system."

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1954

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.6%

This year, the first senior community, which was built in Arizona, dedicated itself only to pensioners. The 320-acre Youngstown facility, opened by Ben Schleifer, Elmer Johns, and Francis Greer, centered development around the needs of the age-restricted community, which broke the 45-year-old tradition in 1999 when it opened to all ages.

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1955

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.8%

During the 1950s, the SSA extended pension coverage to domestic workers, farmers, non-farm self-employed professionals, and specific federal laborers for the first time. The 1934 Railroad Retirement Act was amended in this year to increase a spouse’s annuity.

 

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1956

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 8.9%

In April of this year, the Social Security Act included $160 monthly wage credits for those in the military service. It also allowed more time to claim lump-sum death claims on service members who died overseas but were reburied in the U.S., and permitted early retirement for women at age 62 rather than 65.

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1957

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.0%

This year marked the first disability payments made out under the Office of Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program. However, while providing security to the disabled, the SSA also announced just because someone was "living with" a retiree, they were not entitled to monthly benefits as a beneficiary would rightfully receive.

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1958

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.1%

This year, the Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act was passed in order to register and document welfare and pension financial matters. A congressional report noted that the act was required because of a “rapid and substantial” increase in the capacity and breadth of employee welfare and pension benefits.

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1959

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.2%

The Senate established the McNamara Subcommittee to address aging issues by conducting a comprehensive study. Though still six years away, the notion of Medicare (which started in 1965) began to surface with H.R. 4700, sponsored by Representative Aime Joseph Forand, that introduced the hospital, surgical, and home nursing care provisions for retirees and beneficiaries.

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1960

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.1%

This year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower expanded Social Security benefits to disabled laborers and their dependents, and Congress passed several health insurance bills to match state grants with federal funds for citizens over the age of 65. By the end of the year, the Social Security Amendments of 1960 promised to provide medical assistance and monetary aid to the elderly.

 

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1961

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.2%

At the beginning of 1961, the SSA dropped the retirement age to 62 years old, enabling pensioners to collect the same pension plan they would have received had they been mandated to wait three more years. By June of this year, President John F. Kennedy signed the Social Security Amendments of 1961, which increased minimum retiree benefits and allowed payments to an aged widow, widower, or surviving dependent parents.

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1962

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.3%

Social Security payroll taxes rose this year, giving the 27-year-old federal retirement system more funds, and by 1962, citizens paid up to 3.125% per employee and employer, and self-employed workers paid 4.7%. President Kennedy renewed his 1961 ask, suggesting Congress amend the Social Security Act to include health insurance for the aged and dependents.

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1963

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.3%

This year, President Lyndon B. Johnson would begin to address the ”major gap in the protection of the social insurance system,” that would inevitably lead to the monumental Medicare program two years later. A year after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the Department of Treasury declared that no federal funds would be paid or delivered to a payee living in Cuba or to a beneficiary outside of Cuba that is accepting on behalf of a person in the Northern Caribbean Republic.

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1964

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.4%

In February of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson pleaded with Congress to consider the aged, addressing the Senate and House members with the “Special Message to Congress: Health of the Nation.” This year was also significant to the federal retirement system, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 now giving clear direction regarding discrimination based on race, age, color, or national origin.

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1965

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.5%

This year was about making the monumental move to provide a hospital insurance plan and supplementary medical coverage for retirees under the Medicare program. President Lyndon B. Johnson had the signing ceremony in Independence, Missouri, where he penned the health insurance law with former President Harry S. Truman present.

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1966

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.6%

On July 1 of this year, Medicare became officially available, which before was only a promise. Unlike ever before, U.S. citizens over the age of 65 years old were guaranteed health insurance, which directly affected retirement savings, with seniors given additional federal assistance for medical care.

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1967

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.7%

1967 was a very important year for retirees who wanted to continue to labor beyond the retirement age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was created, and prohibited employment bigotry based on age. The act enabled workers 40 years or older the right to attain employment in the workforce while also not prohibiting mandatory retirement.

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1968

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.8%

On January 2 of this year, President Lyndon Johnson penned the 1967 Social Security Amendments into law, which increased base earnings from $6,600 to $7,800. Additionally, the amendments provided a 13% increase in benefits and changed the minimum assistance, while also changing disability compensation, among other slight modifications.

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1969

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 9.9%

By 1969, the number of pensioners increased from the 1961 figure of 742,000 to 1.7 million. The Medicare hospital deductible increased by $4 to $44, while the Social Security tax rate jumped to 4.8% from 4.4% for $7,800 earnings, and from 6.4% to 6.9% for self contractors.

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1970

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.1%

In 1970, 26.3 million private-sector personnel, equaling 45% of the workforce, had pension plans as part of their annual employee contracts. The voluntary Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) premium for retirees on Medicare rose from $4 to $5.30 a month.

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1971

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.2%

At the beginning of 1971, a 10% Social Security benefits increase took place across the board. Within one year, the voluntary Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) premium for retirees on Medicare rose another .30 cents, from $5.30 to $5.60.

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1972

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.3%

This year in July, President Richard Nixon established a 20% Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) allowance to take effect in 1975, which would directly affect the balance of retirement and pension plans. The president also signed the Social Security Amendmendments of 1972, which included changes in cash benefit and coverage provision and created a supplemental security income (SSI) for the needy aged, blind, and disabled.

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1973

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.5%

By 1973, the Medicare Part B monthly premium for SMI, which had been raised in 1971 by 30 cents, was frozen with an added 20 cents, making it $5.80. In the same year that the original raise would have been up to $6.80 if not capped, the SSA transferred all Black Lung disability claims to the Department of Labor, which was now responsible for payout to victims of the specific occupational illness.

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1974

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.6%

President Gerald Ford would sign the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 this year, establishing “Individual Retirement Accounts,” while also providing federal guidelines and insurance of private pension benefits. This year, Ford would also amend the Freedom of Information Act to make the SSA’s disclosure policies more attainable for citizens seeking information on the administration.

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1975

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $158 individual or $237 couples (8.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 33.0 million
--- Defined contributions: 11.5 million

This year, along with 1969 and 1982, saw significant changed to distribution methods in Medicare, directly affecting retirees who counted on the healthcare plan. Health Care Finance Review reported that all personal Part B 1975 restitution was decreased by $5.09, to resemble how Part B reimbursements may have totaled under a deductible of $65.09.

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1976

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 10.9%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $168 individual or $252 couples (6.4% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 34.2 million (+3.6% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 13.5 million (+17.1% change from prior year)

1976 was another year of SMI beneficiary increases, with the federal government raising the monthly premium from $6.70 to $7.20. This year the first phase of the Claims Automated Processing System (CAPS) was implemented throughout the SSA system to deliver timely and efficient reimbursements.

 

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1977

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.1%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $178 individual or $267 couples (5.9% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 35.0 million (+2.3% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 15.2 million (+13.1% change from prior year)

This year, the SSA would see significant amendments due to short- and long-term funding deficits resulting from the unbalanced qualification formula. The most notable changes were the payroll tax increase of 6.45% to 7.65%, minimal benefit reductions, and a boost in the wage base.

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1978

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.2%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $189 individual or $284 couples (6.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 36.1 million (+3.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 16.3 million (+6.8% change from prior year)

Formally creating an Internal Revenue Service code, the Revenue Act of 1978 established the 401(k) plan, prohibiting taxation on any portion of annual income dedicated to retirement funding. This year quarterly documenting of employee wages was replaced with yearly reporting on the federal level, with some states still noting every three months.

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1979

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.4%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $208 individual or $312 couples (9.9% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 36.8 million (+2.0% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 18.3 million (+12.4% change from prior year)

Simply surviving 1979 was a feat for the SSA. According to the administration, the major overhaul of the 1977 amendments is what saved the fatal financial shortfalls of the retirement system: A Social Security Trustees report from 1975 had foretold complete monetary loss.

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1980

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $238 individual or $357 couples (14.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 38.0 million (+3.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 19.9 million (+9.0% change from prior year)

This year, President Jimmy Carter signed the Social Security Amendments of 1980, most notable for offering disabled employees more employment opportunities and work incentives. However, the amendments also mandated periodic reports on disability beneficiaries to verify their ongoing eligibility, which led to a heavy workload and became quite controversial.

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1981

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $265 individual or $397 couples (11.2% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 38.9 million (+2.4% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 21.7 million (+8.7% change from prior year)

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan charged the Greenspan Commission to investigate the SSA financial shortfalls and suggest new legislation to fix. At the end of the year, Reagan also signed a bill that restored the minimum social security benefit for current, but not future beneficiaries.

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1982

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.8%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $284 individual or $426 couples (7.4% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 38.6 million (-0.7% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 24.6 million (+13.6% change from prior year)

The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) of 1982 made many changes to the healthcare end of the Social Security system, including designating Medicare as a secondary payer of insurance for beneficiaries who still maintained coverage through their employer. The changes came during the 1981-1982 recession, considered the worst since the Great Depression, with unemployment up to 4% and many workers more concerned with present work than future retirement.

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1983

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 11.9%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $304 individual or $456 couples (7.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.0 million (+3.6% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 29.1 million (+18.3% change from prior year)

The Social Security Amendments of 1983 were significant in many ways, especially with the gradual raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67. Additional and notable changes signed into law by President Ronald Reagan included taxing Social Security benefits and covering federal employees under the retirement system.

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1984

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.0%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $314 individual or $472 couples (3.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.0 million (+2.4% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 32.9 million (+13.0% change from prior year)

The Retirement Equity Act of 1984 gave employees a chance to participate in their future financial pension fund, by reducing the age from 25 to 21 years old, and provided stronger maternity and paternity leave provisions. Meanwhile, The Deficit Reduction Act (DEFRA) of 1984 amended the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) of 1982, lengthening COLA increases on capped contributions and benefits.

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1985

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.1%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $325 individual or $488 couples (3.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.7 million (-3.1% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 35.0 million (+6.3% change from prior year)

By 1985, the growth of the SSA and beneficiaries grew leaps and bounds, equaling 4,138,021 retirees with benefits amounting to $10,749,938,000, compared to the first recorded year in 1937, when there were 53,236 pensioners whose benefits totaled $1,278,000.

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1986

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $336 individual or $504 couples (3.1% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.0 million (+0.7% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 36.7 million (+4.9% change from prior year)

In 1986, the “father of Social Security,” J. Douglas Brown, died at the age of 87, and Dorcas Hardy became the first female commissioner of the SSA. This year also marked the arrival of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986, assuring that newly-hired employees who can retire in five years are not barred from the retirement plan.

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1987

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.4%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $340 individual or $510 couples (1.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.0 million (-0.1% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 38.3 million (+4.3% change from prior year)

The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1987 changed the standards of care in nursing homes under Medicare and Medicaid guidelines. Additionally, the act amended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Employment Retirement Insurance Act (ERISA), which mandated employers to offer full pension service credits for participating pension plan employees who labor beyond 65.

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1988

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.5%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $354 individual or $532 couples (4.2% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.7 million (+1.9% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 37.0 million (-3.4% change from prior year)

The SSA was such a popular retirement system that a nationwide 800 number service waslaunched to handle the thousands of daily calls regarding retirement benefits. Additionally, the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988 had Social Security proposals pending from 1987 that President Ronald Regan would sign into law, including the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act and the Family Support Act, which is the welfare system.

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1989

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $368 individual or $553 couples (4.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.0 million (-1.9% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 36.4 million (-1.4% change from prior year)

President George H. W. Bush signed the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1989, assuring employees and beneficiaries have extended health care coverage due to voluntary or involuntary job loss. The SSA opened the Baltimore Mega-Site Teleservice Center, with more than 500 employees working to support the national 800 number.

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1990

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $386 individual or $579 couples (4.7% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 38.8 million (-2.8% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 38.1 million (+4.5% change from prior year)

In 1990, 39.5 million (43%) of all private-sector workers throughout the U.S. carried a pension plan. Additionally, the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 amended the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA) by codifying the equal-benefit-for-equal-cost mechanism and defining waiving rights for early retirement leave.

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1991

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $407 individual or $610 couples (5.4% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.0 million (+0.5% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 38.6 million (+1.4% change from prior year)

The California-based SSA’s main office shut down after Rosalind Sheffield, a 37-year-old janitor, died of Legionnaires’ disease. The Western Program Service Center building in Richmond cleared out after her death, due to fifteen others contracting the disease at the site, which had a $3 million cleanup before employees returned in December of 1991.

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1992

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $422 individual or $633 couples (3.7% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.5 million (+1.3% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 42.4 million (+9.7% change from prior year)

The Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1992 allowed fired employees to transfer their pension savings into another retirement account. The act also allowed the Internal Revenue Service to place a 20% withholding tax on all lump-sum retirement distributions not eligible to be transferred into another retirement account.

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1993

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $434 individual or $652 couples (3.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.3 million (+1.9% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 43.6 million (+2.9% change from prior year)

Up to 23 states throughout the U.S. were revamping their unemployment insurance laws while President Bill Clinton signed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 1993. In October of 1993, the adjusted automatic cost-of-living (COLA) benefits became 2.6% and would be paid in 1994.

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1994

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $446 individual or $669 couples (2.6% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.3 million (+0.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 44.8 million (+2.7% change from prior year)

President Bill Clinton signed the Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 in August amid bipartisan support. The bill removed the Social Security Administration from under the Department of Health and Human Services and made it an independent agency for the first time since 1939. In May, the administration hit the World Wide Web, launching its first website.

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1995

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.7%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $458 individual or $687 couples (2.8% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.7 million (-1.5% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 47.7 million (+6.6% change from prior year)

The average age of retirement for men dipped to 62.2 in 1995, down nearly two years from 1965, while the landscape of working in America evolved rapidly with the release of Windows 95 in August. The SSA began promoting the benefits of Social Security through a series of public service announcements. The success of the stock market in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s helped push assets in 401k programs to nearly triple their 1990 levels.

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1996

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $470 individual or $705 couples (2.6% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.1 million (+3.5% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 50.6 million (+6.1% change from prior year)

The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 gave businesses with fewer than 100 employees the chance to offer retirement plans. Changes to Social Security signed into law by President Clinton in March raised earnings limits and halted benefits based on drug addiction or alcoholism. Additional changes in August ended benefits for non-citizens, though participants in pension plans continued to grow.

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1997

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.5%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $484 individual or $726 couples (2.9% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.4 million (-1.7% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 54.6 million (+7.9% change from prior year)

The Social Security Administration began cycling payments for the first time, sending benefits to new recipients on a prescribed Wednesday throughout the month based on birthday. The Disaster Recovery Act in June reestablished benefits for non-citizens, while the long-term effects were examined by Congress.

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1998

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.5%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $494 individual or $741 couples (2.1% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.6 million (+2.9% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 57.9 million (+6.1% change from prior year)

President Clinton helped launch a series of regional discussions about the long-term solvency of Social Security, highlighted by the first White House Conference in December. The SSA offered the option of filing claims immediately over the phone for the first time, and the pilot program resulted in nearly 88% of claims filed that way.

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1999

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.4%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $500 individual or $751 couples (1.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.4 million (-0.3% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 60.4 million (+4.3% change from prior year)

The economy was booming in the late ’90s on the back of emerging technologies, setting the stage for a 1.3% cost-of-living adjustment in 1999 that was the lowest in the 25-year history of the program. The American Association of Retired Persons became known as just AARP, since nearly 33% of its members were still working.

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2000

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $513 individual or $769 couples (2.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.6 million (+0.4% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 61.7 million (+2.2% change from prior year)

The Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act of 2000 passed through both chambers of Congress by unanimous vote, eliminating the retirement test. The passage of the act meant seniors could continue working after retirement age without losing benefits if they earned above a certain amount. The first Social Security Retirement Planner was launched on the agency’s website, allowing users to estimate their benefits based on age, income, and savings.

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2001

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $531 individual or $796 couples (3.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.1 million (+1.1% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 64.5 million (+4.5% change from prior year)

The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) increased maximum contributions for retirement plans and allowed for catch-up payments for workers over the age of 50. The 3.5% cost-of-living adjustment was the highest since 1992.

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2002

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $545 individual or $817 couples (2.6% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.1 million (+0.0% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 65.3 million (+1.2% change from prior year)

EGTRRA took effect, with amendments in 2002 reducing the number of years needed for an employee to be fully vested in a retirement plan from five to three. The bill also made it easier for workers to roll their plans over when starting a new job.

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2003

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $552 individual or $829 couples (1.4% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.2 million (+0.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 64.1 million (-1.8% change from prior year)

President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 in December, establishing a prescription program for Medicare recipients. The bill wouldn’t take effect until 2006, and restructured Medicare+Choice into Medicare Advantage.

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2004

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $564 individual or $846 couples (2.1% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.7 million (-1.1% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 64.6 million (+0.8% change from prior year)

The United States reached an agreement with both Japan and Mexico that stopped workers abroad from having to pay social security taxes in both countries. The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act was passed and increased the penalty for identity theft and included making fraudulent statements about Medicare or Social Security. The U.S. economy showed signs of recovery from the events of 9/11, growing at 4% in 2004, while inflation remained steady.

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2005

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $579 individual or $869 couples (2.7% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.9 million (+0.0% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 75.5 million (+2.3% change from prior year)

In August 2005, Social Security celebrated its 70th anniversary. One month later, the SSA issued nearly 30,000 emergency payments to victims of Hurricane Katrina, including setting up an office in the Houston Astrodome.

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2006

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.4%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $603 individual or $904 couples (4.1% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.1 million (+0.5% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 79.8 million (+5.8% change from prior year)

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 made sweeping changes to pension laws and increased the amount businesses would have to set aside to ensure pensions were fully funded. Automatic enrollments were streamlined, and contribution limits set by 2001’s EGTRRA, set to expire in 2011, were made permanent. After holding steady for the past six years, the 65-and-older population began to increase, with the first official Baby Boomers set to reach retirement in 2008.

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2007

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.5%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $623 individual or $934 couples (3.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.3 million (+0.3% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 81.6 million (+2.2% change from prior year)

Kathleen Casey-Kirschling became the first official Baby Boomer to file for retirement benefits. She was born at midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, and projections are that nearly 10,000 Baby Boomers will file for benefits every day. In September, the SSA accepted its one-millionth claim online. The first effects of The Great Recession, which would decimate many retirement plans, begin in December.

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2008

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $637 individual or $956 couples (2.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 42.3 million (+0.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 82.5 million (+1.1% change from prior year)

The Social Security Agency’s 1-800 number celebrated its 20th year and fielded its one-billionth call in October. The Compassionate Allowances program was created to help speed the application and approval process for persons with disability claims.

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2009

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 12.8%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $674 individual or $1,011 couples (5.8% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.8 million (-1.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 87.4 million (+6.0% change from prior year)

The 5.8% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was the highest since 1983, as the country was mired in The Great Recession. The government announced it would send $250 payments to Social Security beneficiaries as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama.

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2010

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 13.0%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $674 individual or $1,011 couples (0.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 41.4 million (-0.9% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 88.3 million (+1.0% change from prior year)

The SSA released new tools on its website in support of President Obama’s Open Government initiative, including a life-expectancy calculator, as well as a Spanish-language estimator. The year marked the first of two consecutive years in which no cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) was provided for beneficiaries. It marked the first time since 1974 that no adjustment was offered, while the 65-and-older crowd grew to 13% of the total population.

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2011

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 13.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $674 individual or $1,011 couples (0.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 40.9 million (-1.3% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 88.7 million (+0.5% change from prior year)

Twenty-nine states enacted some form of significant legislation regarding pension plans during 2011, affecting everything from eligibility to maximum contributions. The fallout from The Great Recession changed the immediate future for many workers, with one-quarter of middle-class Americans saying they didn’t expect to retire until 80.

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2012

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 13.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $698 individual or $1,048 couples (3.6% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.8 million (-2.6% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 90.8 million (+2.3% change from prior year)

President Barack Obama reduced the rate of Social Security tax by 2% from 6.2% to 4.2% to ease some financial burden. In 2012, this election year brought about a few other changes to Social Security or retirement on the federal level, but ten more states made sweeping changes to their pension systems.

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2013

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 13.9%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $710 individual or $1,066 couples (1.7% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 39.1 million (-1.8% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 92.5 million (+2.0% change from prior year)

In 2013, Social Security tallied up some high totals, with 63.2 million getting SSA benefits and up to 86% of SSI recipients getting payments due to a disability, including blindness. This year 55% of recipients were women, and 53.5 was the average age for disabled workers collecting benefits.

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2014

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 14.3%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $721 individual or $1,082 couples (1.5% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 37.7 million (-3.4% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 94.7 million (+2.3% change from prior year)

The 2014-2018 SSA Agency Strategic Plan, a 47-page proposal, had a goal to optimized administration of the program. According to the plan, which forewarned that between 2015 to 2020, more than 10 million Americans would age over 55 and that the SSA would produce the most-efficient service delivery, administration integrity, disability programs, workforce involvement, and secure information technology (IT) possible.

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2015

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 14.6%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $733 individual or $1,100 couples (1.7% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 37.3 million (-1.2% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 97.6 million (+3.0% change from prior year)

By 2015, there were 65.1 million payees, 55% of them women, in the Social Security system, with up to 61% of retirees receiving half their income from retirement. This year, the average age of the disabled worker was 53.9.

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2016

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 15.0%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $733 individual or $1,100 couples (0.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 36.0 million (-3.4% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 100.2 million (+2.6% change from prior year)

For just the third time in its history, Social Security beneficiaries received no cost-of-living increase. The top retirement spots included mostly warm weather, although northern cities in North Dakota and Michigan began to gain traction among Baby Boomers.

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2017

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 15.4%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $735 individual or $1,103 couples (0.3% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans:
--- Defined benefits: 35.0 million (-3.0% change from prior year)
--- Defined contributions: 102.4 million (+2.3% change from prior year)

Due to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in 2016, retirees received a 3% increase to take effect in 2017, and the capped earnings taxable by Social Security payroll increased to $127,200. Also this year, 5.5 million new U.S. citizens received Social Security benefits.

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2018

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 15.8%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $750 individual or $1,125 couples (2.0% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans: data not available

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the SSA made some significant changes in 2018. Along with a 2% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase, the administration implemented an earnings limit for retirees still employed, while also making a slight increase in monetary disability benefits.

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2019

- Percent of U.S. population 65 or older: 16.2%
- Maximum monthly social security payout: $771 individual or $1,157 couples (2.8% cost of living adjustment)
- Participants in pension plans: data not available

With a projected cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2020, recipients were awarded an additional 1.6% increase in benefits at the end of this year. One year shy of a century, Social Security sees new challenges, especially in the face of a worldwide pandemic. Based on a Harris Poll from the Nationwide Retirement Institute taken before and during COVID-19, 63%, of Americans deem Social Security more important than ever before, and one out of four U.S. workers report the pandemic has altered their retirement plans.

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