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Social Security in Brief

Posted on:12/21/2011
The modern Social Security programs are cumulative results of nearly sixty years of legislation, affect all Americans, first as taxpayers and then as beneficiaries. The Social Security Act became law after it was signed by President Roosevelt in August 1935.


In the simplest sense, social security programs function as insurance programs that provide money should a particular problem (sickness) or condition (old age) arise. Hence, one can speak of social security as a contingency payment against the financial or medical risks associated with the realities of modern life.


At the same time, social security programs operate as social benefit systems in which the government transfers money from one group, the working able-bodied, for example, to another, such as the retired. Social security, in other words, has some of the features of a public assistance program (often called "welfare").


It is different from private insurance, which operates on the principle that a person is getting either a monetary return or a service in direct proportion to his investment or fee. It also differs from welfare, which operates on the notion that the government should tax those with income or property to support the poor.


The amount of the benefits generally depends on a concept known as the "primary insurance amount" (PIA). One can think of the PIA as the monthly benefit to which a worker is entitled if he accepts retirement benefits at the age he is first eligible to receive full retirement benefits. Social Security has a benefit formula that translates each worker's lifetime earnings in jobs covered by Social Security into a primary insurance amount.


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