The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program provides monthly benefits to qualified retired and disabled workers and their dependents, and to survivors of insured workers. Eligibility and benefit amounts are determined by the worker's contributions to Social Security. Benefits are paid as an earned right to workers, their families and their survivors. There is no means test to qualify for benefits.
During 2000, more than 45 million people received cash benefits at a rate exceeding $34 billion each month ($408 billion annually). According to the latest Social Security Trustees Report, these cash benefits comprised just over 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product. During the same year, approximately 153 million employees and self-employed workers, along with employers, contributed more than $492 billion to the OASDI trust funds-- through which contributions are credited and benefits are paid.
Social Security benefits are essential to the economic well-being of millions of individuals. Social Security pays benefits to more than 90 percent of those 65 or older. It is the major source of income (providing 50 percent or more of total income) for 64 percent of the beneficiaries. It contributes 90 percent or more of income for almost one-third of the beneficiaries, and is the only source of income for 20 percent of them (see charts 1-4 at the end of this section).
Contributions and Trust Funds
A person contributes to Social Security either through payroll taxes or self-employment taxes under the Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) or the Self-Employed Contribution Act (SECA). Employers match the employee contribution, while self-employed workers pay an amount equal to the combined employer-employee contributions. (Self-employed workers receive a special tax deduction to ease the impact of paying the higher rate). There is a maximum yearly amount of earnings subject to OASDI taxes, $80,400 in 2001. There is no upper limit on taxable earnings for Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI). Employees whose contributions exceed the maximum taxable amount because they worked for more than one employer can receive refunds of excess FICA payments when they file their tax returns.
Taxes are allocated to the Old-Age (Retirement) and Survivors Insurance (OASI), the Disability Insurance (DI), and the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Funds. In addition to the taxes on covered earnings, OASI and DI trust fund revenues include interest on trust fund securities, income from taxation of OASI and DI benefits, certain technical transfers, and gifts or bequests.
By law, the OASI and DI trust funds may only be disbursed for:
(1) Monthly benefits for workers and their families.
(2) Vocational rehabilitation services for disabled beneficiaries.
(3) Administrative costs (currently less than 1 percent of expenditures).
(4) The lump-sum death payment to eligible survivors. Revenue received from FICA payments is transferred to the U.S. Treasury. FICA revenue in excess of outlays is used to purchase special interest-bearing Treasury bonds. These securities remain assets of the trust funds until needed to cover Social Security costs.
Provisions for Railroad Retirement Board Beneficiaries
The OASDI tables do not include a number of persons receiving Railroad Retirement benefits who would be eligible for Social Security benefits had they applied. The reason they have not applied is that receipt of a Social Security benefit would reduce their Railroad Retirement benefit by a like amount. The number of persons is not available, but is estimated to be less than 100,000.
The Railroad Retirement Act of 1974, effective January 1, 1975, provided that the regular annuity for employees with 10 or more years of railroad service who retired after December 31, 1974, will consist of two components:
* Tier 1-A basic Social Security level component equivalent to what would be paid under the Social Security Act on the basis of the employee's combined railroad and nonrailroad service, reduced by the amount of any monthly benefit under OASDI actually paid on the basis of nonrailroad work; and
* Tier 2-A "private pension" component payable over and above the Social Security equivalent, calculated on the basis of the number of years of railroad service. …