Skip to main content

Changing Social Security in the US: Rising Insecurity?

  • Madonna Harrington Meyer (a1)

Although poverty rates among the elderly in the US are at an all-time low, many face rising fiscal insecurity. The US welfare state is being remodeled in market-friendly ways that maximise individual choice, risk, and responsibility, rather than family friendly ways that maximise shared risk and responsibility and reduce insecurity. This article analyses how each of the main sources of income for the aged are being either frozen or shrunk in ways that are likely to increase inequality and insecurity in the years ahead among the elderly, particularly those who are female, black and/or Hispanic, and unmarried. The article assesses various policy changes for their capacity to either increase or decrease financial insecurity and inequality, particularly for those with a life time of lower earnings, more labour force disruptions and greater responsibility for providing unpaid care work for the young, disabled or frail elderly.

Hide All
AARP (2005) Public Attitudes Toward Social Security and Private Accounts, Washington, DC: AARP Knowledge Movement.
AARP (2011) 50+ African American Workers: A Status Report, Implications and Recommendations, Washington, DC: AARP Knowledge Movement, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Administration on Aging (2011) A Profile of Older Americans, Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Bethell, T. (2010) What the Payroll Tax Cut Means for Social Security, Washington, DC: AARP, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Board of Trustees (2009) ‘The annual report of the board of trustees of the federal old age and survivors insurance and federal disability insurance trust funds’, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Butrica, B., Johnson, R. W. and Smith, K. E. (2011) How Will the Great Recession Affect Future Retirement Incomes?, Washington, DC: Urban Institute, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (2010) Policy Basics: Top Ten Facts about Social Security on the Program's 75th Anniversary, Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Employee Benefit Research Institute (2005) ‘Participation in employee benefit programs’, EBRI Databook on Employee Benefits, Chapter 4, Table 1, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Estes, C. and Associates, (2001) Social Policy and Aging: A Critical Perspective, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Even, W. E. and Macpherson, D. A. (2004) ‘When will the gender gap in retirement income narrow?’, Southern Economic Journal, 71, 1, 182200.
Favrerault, M. and Steurle, E. (2007) Social Security and Spouse and Survivor Benefits for the Modern Family, Washington, DC: Urban Institute, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Harrington Meyer, M. and Herd, P. (2007) Market Friendly or Family Friendly? The State and Gender Inequality in Old Age, New York, NY: Russell Sage.
Harrington Meyer, M. and Pavalko, E. (1996) ‘Family, work, and access to health insurance among mature women’, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37, 4, 311–25.
Harrington Meyer, M., Wolf, D. and Himes, C. (2006) ‘Declining eligibility for social security spouse and widow benefits in the United States?’, Research on Aging, 28, 2, 240–60.
Herd, P. and Kingson, E. R. (2005) ‘Selling social security’, in Hudson, R. B. (ed.), The New Politics of Old Age Policy, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 183204.
Iams, H. M. and Tamborini, C. R. (2012) ‘The implications of marital history change on women's eligibility for social security wife and widow benefits, 1990–2009’, Social Security Bulletin, 72, 2, 2338.
Johnson, R. W. (1999) The Gender Gap in Pension Wealth: Is Women's Progress in the Labor Market Equalizing Retirement Benefits?, Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Karamcheva, N. and Sanzenbacher, G. (2010) ‘Is pension inequality growing? [Research Brief 10-1]’, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Boston, MA, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Korpi, W. (2000) Faces of Inequality: Gender, Class and Patterns of Inequalities in Different Types of Welfare States, Luxembourg Income Study Working Paper No. 224, Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University.
Korpi, W. and Palme, J. (1998) ‘The paradox of redistribution and strategies of equality: welfare state institutions, inequality, and poverty in the western countries’, American Sociological Review, 63, 5, 661–87.
Levine, P. B., Mitchell, O. S. and Phillips, J. W. R. (2000) ‘Benefit of one's own: older women's entitlement to social security retirement’, Social Security Bulletin, 63, 2, 4753.
Moon, M. with Herd, P. (2002) A Place at the Table: Women's Needs and Medicare Reform, New York, NY: The Century Foundation.
Munnell, A. H. and Sundén, A. (2004) Coming up Short: The Challenge of 401(k) Plans, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Munnell, A. H., Webb, A. and Gulab-Sass, F. (2009) The National Retirement Risk Index: After the Crash, Boston College: Center for Retirement Research, [accessed 07.06.2012].
President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security (2001) Strengthening Social Security and Creating Personal Wealth for all Americans, Final Report, Washington, DC: President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security.
Public Agenda (2005) ‘Medicare: results of survey question re. federal budget’, Issue Guides, New York, NY: Public Agenda, Public
Quadagno, J. S. (1984) ‘Welfare capitalism and the Social Security Act of 1935’, American Sociological Review, 49, 5, 632–47.
Quadagno, J. S. (2005) One Nation, Uninsured: Why the US has no National Health Insurance, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Reno, V. P., Walker, E. A. and Bethell, T. N. (2012) ‘Social security finances: findings of the 2012 trustees report’, Social Security Brief 39, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Ruffing, K. and Van de Water, P. N. (2009) What the 2009 Trustees’ Report Shows About Social Security, Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, [accessed 07.06.2012].
Schulz, J. H. and Binstock, R. H. (2006) Aging Nation: The Economics and Politics of Growing Older in America, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Selden, T. and Gray, B. (2006) ‘Tax subsidies for employment based health insurance, estimates for 2006’, Health Affairs, 25, 6, 1568–79.
Shuey, K. M. and O'Rand, A. M. (2006) ‘Changing demographics and new pension risks’, Research on Aging, 28, 3, 317–40.
Social Security Administration (2009) ‘Annual statistical supplement 2008’, Social Security Bulletin, Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.
Social Security Administration (2010) ‘Annual statistical supplement 2009’, Social Security Bulletin, Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.
Torres-Gil, F., Greenstein, R. and Kamin, D. (2005) Hispanics’ Large Stake in the Social Security Debate, Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
US Census Bureau (2008) ‘Current population reports, P60-235. Table 680. Money income of families – per cent distribution by income level in constant (2007) dollars: 1980 to 2007’, and [accessed 07.06.2012].
Wu, K. B. (2005) African Americans Age 65 and Older: Their Sources of Income [Fact Sheet 100], Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute.
Yergin, D. and Stanislaw, J. (1998) The Commanding Heights: The Battle Between Government and the Marketplace that is Remaking the Modern World, New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Policy and Society
  • ISSN: 1474-7464
  • EISSN: 1475-3073
  • URL: /core/journals/social-policy-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed