Research

New Social Security Data on Child Benefits

Stacks of research studies document the impact of Social Security’s various benefits on the adults receiving them. But little is known about the children who get Social Security checks every month.

That’s starting to change, thanks to Timothy Moore at Purdue University. To advance research on child beneficiaries, he has created a database with more than four decades of Social Security’s county-level benefit data, including digitized paper records. He combined these records with children’s existing demographic and health data and information on their parents’ employment, income, and housing situations.

Last year, Social Security paid about $3 billion to children whose parents have qualified for benefits and are retired, disabled or deceased, as well as to some adults who still receive benefits because they became disabled before turning 22.

Moore’s preliminary analyses of the county data reveal changes in the programs over time. About 43 percent of the 4 million children with Social Security benefits currently get them because a working or retired parent has died – that’s down from 58 percent in 1980. The decline makes sense in the context of dramatic increases in longevity in the retiree population.

Going in the opposite direction is the trend for children receiving benefits because a parent is disabled. Their share grew from 29 percent of all child Social Security recipients in 1980 to a peak of 43 percent during the Great Recession before dropping in recent years. This pattern mirrors the changes in the adult disability population.

The smallest group receiving benefits are the children of retirees. Their share of all child recipients has changed only slightly over the years, ranging from 11 percent to 17 percent.

Moore also compiled county-level data on a separate Social Security program that pays cash assistance to about 1 million children with disabilities: the Supplemental Security Income program or SSI. The new data for children, when compared with benefit data for adults with disabilities, shows that counties with higher rates of SSI benefits for children also have higher rates for adults.

The inventory of Social Security’s child benefits is just a start. Future research into these important programs should follow.

Researchers who would like to access this data can contact Timothy Moore at his Purdue University email. To read his study, see “Children Receiving OASDI and SSI by State and County, 1970-2019: Description and Fifty Years of Data.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. 

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