How Many People Receive Social Security Benefits?

For many workers, Social Security benefits make it possible to retire.

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The Social Security Administration runs retirement and disability insurance programs for covered workers. To receive benefits, you must contribute payroll taxes, which your employer withholds from your paycheck. Self-employed people pay into the system through self-employment taxes, which they send to the Internal Revenue Service with their annual tax returns or through quarterly estimated payments. The Social Security Administration publishes a regular set of statistics on the number of workers drawing benefits and their average payments.


The Social Security Administration publishes statistics on disability and retirement programs in an Annual Statistical Supplement. You can read it at the agency's website at The annual bulletin, updated in 2012 for 2011 figures, showed that as of December 2011, 38,485,716 people were drawing benefits from the retirement program. Of these, 35,599,569 were retired workers, 2,291,792 were spouses drawing benefits on a principle worker's record, and 594,355 were the children of retired workers. The average retirement benefit was $1,181.92 per month.

Disability Beneficiaries

For the same month, Social Security counted 8,575,544 disability beneficiaries. The average monthly benefit was $1,110.50. The basic calculation for disability benefits is similar to that for retirement: The agency bases the payment on the wages earned by the covered worker over his lifetime. Disability benefits average less than retirement, because disabled workers begin drawing benefits before they reach retirement age, and their payment is, on average, based on a shorter work record. Once a disability beneficiary reaches Social Security's full retirement age, his benefits convert to "retirement," and the disability case closes.

Supplemental Security Income

Social Security also runs the Supplemental Security Income program, which assists disabled individuals who don't have sufficient work credits for the disability program. Some states offer SSI beneficiaries a supplemental benefit as well. As of December 2011, 7,866,390 people were drawing federal SSI benefits; of these, 2,389,113 were drawing a supplement from their state. The SSI monthly benefit is set at a fixed rate, which as of 2013 had reached $710 for an individual.

Monthly Updates

Social Security updates its statistics every month in the Monthly Statistical Snapshot, although the updated figures are not as precise as the numbers published in the Annual Statistical Supplement. As of December 2012, according to the Snapshot, the retirement rolls had reached approximately 39,613,000, with an average benefit of $1,193.94. Disability beneficiaries had reached approximately 10,889,000, with an average benefit of $1,130.34. In the same month, Social Security's total payout for all programs had reached $65,430,000,000.