Benefit Bulletin: July 2021

Social Security Benefits Slowed Amid COVID-19 Deaths

Rick Delaney, Chairman of the Board, TSCL

The rate of growth in the number of older Americans who receive Social Security has slowed sharply recently, and the drop may be due in large part to the large number of deaths from COVID-19 among people age 65 and up.  In March of 2021, the number of people receiving retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration rose 900,000 to 46.5 million, the smallest year - over - year gain since April 2009.

The Office of the Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration recently said that office is assessing the impact from COVID-19, but the smaller than expected year – over - year increase appears to be due to excess deaths.  About 80% of the deaths from COVID-19 were people age 65 and older — more than 374,004 people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This unusual shift comes at a time when the number of Social Security beneficiaries starting retirement benefits has risen dramatically over the past decade.  Since 2010, there has been a sizable 34% increase in the 65 and older population, those born between 1946 and 1964.  The U.S. Census Bureau said in 2019 that “No other age group saw such a fast increase.”

Usually during economic downturns many older workers are forced into retirement when they lose jobs.  While the pandemic may have caused more to retire earlier than planned, deaths removed hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries from Social Security rolls.  In fact, life expectancy plunged by a full year in the first half of 2020, from 78.8 years to 77.8 years, the biggest drop since World War II.

TSCL is in the early stages of understanding the full scope of the impact of COVID-19 on the Social Security Trust Fund, as we continue to work with Congressional Offices to enact legislation to boost benefits and strengthen program financing.


Source: “Social Security Sees Slowdown in Retiree Rolls Amid COVID Deaths,” Alexandre Tanzi, Bloomberg News, May 3, 2021.   “U.S. Life Expectancy Drops A Year In Pandemic, Most Since WWII,” Marilynn Marchione, Associated Press, February 17, 2021.