Research and Statistics Notes

Social Security Retirement Benefit Claiming-Age Combinations Available to Married Couples
No. 2017-01 (released September 2017)
by Brian J. Alleva

The rules for claiming Social Security retired-worker benefits are complex in large part because they offer a potential claimant flexibility in choosing a claiming age most to his or her advantage. The complexity of those rules is multiplied for a married couple, as the potential eligibility for spousal benefits, the couple's age difference, and other factors must also be considered. The number of claiming-age combinations available to a married couple varies widely for couples with different circumstances. This note explores the claiming rules, contingent situations, claiming-age combinations, and benefit amounts available to married couples across a range of respective birth years and benefit levels based on respective earnings histories.

A Comparison of Free Online Tools for Individuals Deciding When to Claim Social Security Benefits
No. 2016-03 (released December 2016)
by Patricia P. Martin and Dale Kintzel

When to claim Social Security retirement benefits is one of the most important financial decisions many people make. The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a variety of online tools and publications to help individuals decide on their own when to claim benefits but maintains a neutral stance on when a person should claim. Because SSA remains neutral, other government, nonprofit, academic, and for-profit entities have developed tools to assist the public with their claiming decision. This note analyzes the advantages and limitations of six online benefit calculators. Users of these online tools should consider the source of their information and understand that the benefit estimates they produce are based on different underlying assumptions, which can result in different estimated benefit amounts.

The Longevity Visualizer: An Analytic Tool for Exploring the Cohort Mortality Data Produced by the Office of the Chief Actuary
No. 2016-02 (released May 2016)
by Brian J. Alleva

This note introduces the Longevity Visualizer (LV), a visual-analysis tool that enables users to explore various applications of cohort life-table data compiled and calculated by the Social Security Administration's Office of the Chief Actuary. The LV presents the life-table data in two series—survival functions and age-at-death probability distributions—each of which is generated for each potential age and each sex across a long range of historical and projected birth cohorts. The LV is designed to make complex longevity projections accessible to analysts and researchers, as well as to individuals making financial and retirement plans.

Why Researchers Now Rely on Surveys for Race Data on OASDI and SSI Programs: A Comparison of Four Major Surveys
No. 2016-01 (released January 2016)
by Patricia P. Martin

Policy interest in the sociodemographic characteristics of beneficiaries of the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) programs is increasing as the minority share of the senior and disabled population grows. This note discusses using four major surveys—the Current Population Survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation, the American Community Survey, and the Health and Retirement Study—to examine OASDI and SSI program use by race and ethnicity. Survey profiles highlight each survey's history, design, and methodology; the categories with which each collects race and ethnicity data; and their strengths and limitations for analyzing SSA's program data.

Childhood Continuing Disability Reviews and Age-18 Redeterminations for Supplemental Security Income Recipients: Outcomes and Subsequent Program Participation
No. 2015-03 (released October 2015)
by Jeffrey Hemmeter and Michelle Stegman Bailey

This note presents statistics on child Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients whose eligibility had ceased because of a finding of medical improvement in a childhood continuing disability review (CDR) or an age-18 redetermination. We present the numbers and percentage distributions of children and youths who received a CDR or age-18 redetermination between 1998 and 2008, the resulting cessation rates, and the estimated percentages that returned to Social Security Administration (SSA) disability programs, all by selected personal and programmatic characteristics. These statistics provide context for policy proposals calling on SSA to conduct more childhood CDRs.

Characteristics of Noninstitutionalized DI and SSI Program Participants, 2013 Update
No. 2015-02 (released September 2015)
by Michelle Stegman Bailey and Jeffrey Hemmeter

The authors use data from the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to Social Security administrative records to produce tables providing detailed information on the economic and demographic characteristics of Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients in January–July 2013. The tables update those published in a 2014 Research and Statistics Note that used 2010 data from earlier interview waves of the 2008 SIPP panel and a 2008 Research and Statistics Note that used 2002 SIPP data.

Retirement Income Among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the American Community Survey
No. 2015-01 (released February 2015)
by John L. Murphy and Brent Huggins

The authors present data on annual retirement income of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) from the American Community Survey and include separate analyses for AIANs of single-race and multiple-race backgrounds. The authors also compare retirement income of AIANs with that of whites and blacks and find that, overall, annual retirement income among all AIANs was significantly lower than that of whites and also of blacks.

Financial Literacy Among American Indians and Alaska Natives
No. 2014-04 (released August 2014)
by John L. Murphy, Alicia Gourd, and Faith Begay

This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to analyze financial literacy within the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population. The HRS is a nationally representative longitudinal survey of individuals aged 50 or older and their spouses. The study compares AIAN financial literacy scores from an 18-question financial literacy module with those from other racial groups, all of whom score higher than the AIAN sample.

The Effects of Alternative Demographic and Economic Assumptions on MINT Simulations: A Sensitivity Analysis
No. 2014-03 (released April 2014)
by Patrick J. Purcell and Dave Shoffner

The Social Security Administration's (SSA's) Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) estimates income/wealth of future retirees. Estimates are based on demographic information from the Survey of Income and Program Participation: individual earnings histories and projections of interest rates, wage growth, mortality rates, and disability rates. Historically, MINT simulations were based exclusively on SSA's Office of the Chief Actuary's (OCACT's) intermediate-cost projections of key demographic/economic variables. The authors present the results of a sensitivity analysis in which they ran MINT using OCACT's low-cost/high-cost projections of mortality and disability trends. Those simulations estimated characteristics of the population aged 65 or older in 2040 under alternative projections of mortality/disability trends. The authors then describe simulations in which future real rates of return on stocks held in retirement accounts differ from the historical mean real rate of return used in baseline simulations. Sensitivity analyses can help MINT users choose model parameters with the greatest impact on simulation results.

Characteristics of Noninstitutionalized DI and SSI Program Participants, 2010 Update
No. 2014-02 (released February 2014)
by Michelle Stegman Bailey and Jeffrey Hemmeter

The authors use data from the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) matched to Social Security administrative records to produce tables providing detailed information on the economic and demographic characteristics of Disability Insurance beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients in December 2010. The tables update those published in a 2008 Research and Statistics Note that used 2002 SIPP data.

African Americans: Description of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Participation and Benefit Levels Using the American Community Survey
No. 2014-01 (released January 2014)
by Patricia P. Martin and John L. Murphy

The authors use American Community Survey (ACS) data to compare Social Security and Supplemental Security Income program participation and benefit levels of African Americans with those of the general population. The ACS data show that African Americans are more likely to be Supplemental Security Income recipients, and less likely to be Social Security beneficiaries. Higher rates of poverty, disability, and mortality among African Americans mean that they are also more likely to rely on Social Security survivor and disability benefits than are other beneficiaries.

Identifying SSA's Sequential Disability Determination Steps Using Administrative Data
No. 2013-01 (released June 2013)
by Bernard Wixon and Alexander Strand

The authors document the steps used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and state Disability Determination Service (DDS) agencies to make initial determinations about eligibility for Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. For both adults and children, SSA/DDSs record the basis for initial disability determinations using codes that correspond to the steps of the process. The resulting data element, the Regulation Basis Code, permits researchers to distinguish allowances based on the Listings from those based on medical/vocational factors for adults (or functional factors for children). It can also be used to identify denials based on severity, residual functional capacity, or other reasons.

Changes in Diagnostic Codes at Age 18
No. 2012-04 (released October 2012)
by Jeffrey Hemmeter

This note provides data on the changes in the primary diagnosis codes of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) youth resulting from age-18 redeterminations from 2005 through 2009. It also provides information on the percent of youth continuing on or leaving the SSI program at age 18 by primary diagnosis. Although there is some movement between primary diagnosis codes, most youth remain in the same overall diagnostic group even if program eligibility ceases.

Profile of Social Security Disabled Workers and Dependents Who Have a Connection to Workers' Compensation or Public Disability Benefits
No. 2012-03 (released September 2012)
by Rene Parent, Incigul Sayman, and Kevin Kulzer

This note provides a comprehensive profile of the characteristics of disability beneficiaries with a connection to workers' compensation or public disability benefits (PDBs). The 8.3 percent of disabled workers who have this connection tend to be economically better off, more frequently middle aged, male, afflicted with a musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorder, and tend to wait longer to apply for social security disability benefits after onset than the general disabled-worker population. In our analysis, we have included a special focus on California, as this state represents a large portion of the PDB workload, and its experience has a substantial effect on the national picture.

Measures of Health and Economic Well-Being Among American Indians and Alaska Natives Aged 62 or Older in 2030
No. 2012-02 (released February 2012)
by Amy Dunaway-Knight, Melissa A. Z. Knoll, Dave Shoffner, and Kevin Whitman

This Research and Statistics Note uses Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) projections to provide an overview of the demographic, health, and economic characteristics of the American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) population aged 62 or older in 2030. MINT projects that the AIAN population will fare worse than the overall aged population in 2030 according to measures of health status, work limitation status, disability status, lifetime earnings, per capita Social Security benefits, per capita income, per capita wealth, and poverty.

Comparing Earnings Estimates from the 2006 Earnings Public-Use File and the Annual Statistical Supplement
No. 2012-01 (released January 2012)
by Michael Compson

The Social Security Administration recently released the 2006 Earnings Public-Use File (EPUF). The EPUF contains earnings information for individuals drawn from a systematic random 1-percent sample of all Social Security numbers issued before January 2007. This note presents the process of evaluating the earnings data in EPUF. It also identifies and explains four key differences between the data in EPUF and the estimates published in the Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin. The note specifically compares EPUF data with Annual Statistical Supplement estimates of earnings, number of workers with earnings, median earnings by sex and age group, and percentage of workers with earnings below the taxable maximum by sex. After accounting for the expected differences, the remaining discrepancies between EPUF and Annual Statistical Supplement estimates are relatively small.

Selected Characteristics and Self-Perceived Performance of Individual Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Representative Payees
No. 2009-02 (released December 2009)
by Rene Parent, Jeffrey Hemmeter, and Nancy Early

Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income recipients who are unable to manage their own benefits may be assisted by relatives, friends, or other interested individuals, called representative payees. This note examines the characteristics of these payees, the payees' assessment of their own performance, and whether they believe their beneficiaries' needs are met. Using results of a survey of representative payees conducted by Westat, Inc. for a 2007 National Research Council report, this note also examines the importance of indicators of potential misuse identified in that report.

Access Restrictions and Confidentiality Protections in the Health and Retirement Study
No. 2009-01 (released July 2009)
by Lionel P. Deang and Paul S. Davies

Organizations involved in statistical surveys of human subjects face two important and competing challenges: protecting data confidentiality while maximizing data accessibility to potential researchers. This note examines how the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), conducted by the Institute for Social Research of the University of Michigan, attempts to balance data confidentiality with the desire to broaden the pool of potential data users. Current HRS procedures are summarized and compared with those of organizations with similar programs, and potential ways to expand HRS use without compromising confidentiality are discussed.

Estimated Retirement Benefits in the Social Security Statement
No. 2008-05 (released November 2008)
by Glenn R. Springstead, David A. Weaver, and Jason J. Fichtner
Estimating the First Instance of Substantive-Covered Earnings in the Labor Market
No. 2008-04 (released September 2008)
by Michael Compson
Trends in Elective Deferrals of Earnings from 1990–2001 in Social Security Administrative Data
No. 2008-03 (released June 2008)
by David Pattison and Hilary Waldron
Characteristics of Noninstitutionalized DI and SSI Program Participants
No. 2008-02 (released January 2008)
by Anne DeCesaro and Jeffrey Hemmeter
Stochastic Models of the Social Security Trust Funds
No. 2003-01 (released March 2003)
by Joyce Manchester and Clark Burdick
Follow-up of Former Drug Addict and Alcoholic Beneficiaries
No. 2001-02 (released October 2001)
by Mikki D. Waid and Sherry L. Barber
Military Veterans and Social Security
No. 2001-01 (released February 2001)
by Robert V. Gesumaria and David A. Weaver

Military veterans constitute an important subgroup of Social Security beneficiaries. Because veterans are a large subgroup of Social Security beneficiaries and because policymakers have shown a clear interest in their well-being, it is important to understand how veterans and their dependents are currently faring. This note looks at the characteristics and trends in growth of the veteran and Social Security populations.

Distribution of Zero-Earnings Years by Gender, Birth Cohort, and Level of Lifetime Earnings
No. 2000-02 (released November 2000)
by Chad Newcomb

This note uses data from the Modeling Income in the Near Term (MINT) project to estimate the distribution of zero-earnings years by gender, birth cohort, and level of lifetime earnings from 1951 to 1996. The analysis is focused mainly on zero-earnings years that fall within a worker's highest 35 years of earnings, because only these years are used in the calculation of benefits.

Earnings of Black and Nonblack Workers Who Died or Became Disabled in 1996 and 1997
No. 2000-01 (released November 2000)
by Greg Diez

Social Security solvency proposals may affect blacks as a group differently than those of other races because of differences in earnings, mortality, and rates of disability. To provide some background for understanding this issue, this note examines the earnings of workers by age and race, comparing those who recently died or became entitled to Social Security disability benefits with those still alive. It does not analyze any specific proposal for changing benefits.