Illegal Workers Could Access Billions In Social Security Money, Says Social Security Administration

Illegal Workers Could Access Billions In Social Security Money, Says Social Security Administration

New "Earnings Suspense File" Report Shows 93 Percent
Growth to $585 Billion Over Five Most Recent Years


March 29, 2007 (Washington, DC) – The "Earnings Suspense File" (ESF), used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to track names and Social Security numbers that do not match government records, almost doubled during the five most recent years tracked to $585 billion, potentially making millions of today's illegal workers eligible for billions of dollars in benefits under an immigration amnesty plan.

The chief cause of growth in the file is unauthorized work by non-citizens, according to SSA Inspector General Patrick P. O'Carroll.

Under current law, a non-citizen who obtains authorization to work in the United States at some later date becomes eligible for Social Security benefits – even for work performed in the country illegally. Upon receiving a valid Social Security number, unauthorized earnings can be reinstated into the worker's new, valid Social Security account – without penalty, and at taxpayer expense.

The analysis, conducted by The Senior Citizens League and based on new information released by SSA, reveals that:

  • From 1937-1999 (a 63-year period), the ESF accumulated a total of $301.8 billion. It almost doubled, however, from 2000-2004 (the most recent years for which data is available) to $585 billion, largely a result of minimal workplace enforcement efforts.
  • From 2000-2004, the file grew by an average of $57 billion in "uncredited wages," represented by 9.3 million wage reports per year. By contrast, the file grew by just $18.9 billion and 5.2 million wage reports per year throughout the 1990s, and $7.8 billion and 4.2 million wage reports per year throughout the 1980s.
  • According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the percentage of reinstatements to valid Social Security numbers from the ESF for "potentially unauthorized work" averaged an estimated 32 percent from 1986-2003, and exceeded 50 percent of all reinstatements for foreign-born workers in some of those years.

"Since we know that Social Security is forecast to go bankrupt by the year 2040, we find it unfathomable that our government would willingly bankrupt the system even sooner by giving billions of dollars to people who broke the laws of the United States," said Shannon Benton, executive director of The Senior Citizens League. "Our seniors and future retirees deserve to know that the promises made to them by their public representatives will, indeed, be kept."

It is important to note that the ESF tracks wages, and does not represent the amount the government would have to payout in future benefits. Rather, a percentage of the $585 billion in wages currently in the file would have to be paid out in Social Security benefits as eligible beneficiaries come forward. Also, there is no money in the file; when an eligible beneficiary makes a claim, the money to payout benefits must come from another source.


With 1.2 million members, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit for more information.

PRESS CONTACT: Brad Phillips, Phillips Media Relations
202-776-0640 (w) 202-446-4060 (c)


March 2007