You are here: > > Program Explainer: Special Minimum Benefit

### Program Explainers

#### Special Minimum Benefit

Released: April 2021

DEFINITION: The special minimum benefit is a special minimum primary insurance amount (PIA) enacted in 1972 to provide adequate benefits to long-term low earners. The first full special minimum PIA in 1973 was \$170 per month. Beginning in 1979, its value has increased with price growth and is \$886 per month in 2020. a

• The number of beneficiaries receiving the special minimum PIA has declined from about 200,000 in the early 1990s to about 32,100 in 2019. b
• Fewer new beneficiaries are receiving the price-indexed special minimum PIA because wage growth typically exceeds price growth, thus, their wage-indexed regular PIA is usually higher.
• The value of the regular PIA has historically held constant while the value of the special minimum PIA has declined relative to the average wage, but recently the value of the regular PIA has also declined.
• The value of the regular PIA has fallen while the value of the special minimum PIA has held constant relative to the poverty threshold.
SOURCE: Author's calculations for workers who earn the exact amount needed each year from age 31 through age 60 to obtain 30 years of coverage, and based on SSA rules for the PIA and special minimum PIA.
Show as table
Table equivalent for chart: Regular PIA Versus Special Minimum PIA for a Low Earner with 30 Years of Coverage
Year Regular PIA Special minimum PIA
Monthly Dollar Value
1991 384 461
1992 405 478
1993 419 493
1994 441 505
1995 445 519
1996 457 533
1997 476 548
1998 498 560
1999 526 567
2000 551 581
2001 581 601
2002 611 617
2003 625 626
2004 631 639
2005 644 656
2006 670 683
2007 691 705
2008 718 721
2009 747 763
2010 759 763
2011 735 763
2012 739 791
2013 749 804
2014 759 816
2015 753 830
2016 765 832
2017 775 832
Percent of Average Wage
1991 21.2 25.4
1992 21.2 25.0
1993 21.7 25.5
1994 22.3 25.5
1995 21.6 25.2
1996 21.2 24.7
1997 20.8 24.0
1998 20.7 23.3
1999 20.7 22.3
2000 20.6 21.7
2001 21.2 21.9
2002 22.1 22.3
2003 22.0 22.0
2004 21.2 21.5
2005 20.9 21.3
2006 20.8 21.2
2007 20.5 20.9
2008 20.9 20.9
2009 22.0 22.5
2010 21.9 22.0
2011 20.5 21.3
2012 20.0 21.4
2013 20.0 21.5
2014 19.6 21.1
2015 18.8 20.7
2016 18.9 20.5
2017 18.5 19.8
Percent of Aged Single Poverty Threshold
1991 70.6 84.7
1992 72.2 85.3
1993 72.6 85.3
1994 74.4 85.3
1995 73.0 85.3
1996 72.9 85.0
1997 74.2 85.5
1998 76.4 85.9
1999 79.0 85.2
2000 80.1 84.4
2001 82.0 85.0
2002 85.0 85.8
2003 85.0 85.1
2004 83.5 84.6
2005 82.5 84.0
2006 83.2 84.7
2007 83.4 85.1
2008 83.5 83.8
2009 87.1 89.0
2010 87.1 87.6
2011 81.7 84.9
2012 80.6 86.2
2013 80.5 86.4
2014 80.2 86.2
2015 79.5 87.6
2016 79.7 86.8
2017 79.1 84.9

a. Social Security Administration, Annual Statistical Supplement, 2020, Table 2.A12b.

b. Of the 32,100, approximately 17,500 are retired female workers and 11,000 are retired male workers. For a full breakdown of the remaining beneficiaries, see Social Security Administration, Annual Statistical Supplement, 2020, Table 5.A8.

c. To qualify for the full special minimum PIA, a person must have 30 years of coverage (YOC). A person with 11 to 29 YOCs can qualify for a prorated special minimum.