• Written by Sophie Mitra, Professor of economics, Fordham University
Social Security benefits play key role in preventing older Americans from lacking enough quality food

The Research Brief[1] is a short take about interesting academic work.

The big idea

Social Security benefits make it easier for older Americans to afford the food they need to live a healthy, active life, according to our recently published research[2].

Although this finding may seem obvious, to our knowledge this is the first study to directly examine the link between income from Social Security in old age and food insecurity[3], whereby a household can’t get adequate food because it has insufficient money and other resources.

We used data from a unique national household survey, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics[4], to examine changes in the ability of a household to purchase food from year to year. We focused on how just under 1,000 households receiving Social Security benefits for the first time or experiencing an increase in Social Security benefits affected their food insecurity.

We found that becoming a Social Security beneficiary for the first time lowers the odds of food insecurity by 54%. After that, an increase in benefits by 10% reduced the probability of someone’s being food insecure by over half a percentage point, we found.

Another way to put this: We estimate that if overall benefits were increased by 10%, about half a million senior citizens would no longer be food insecure.

Why it matters

Unfortunately, in our view, the debate over Security Security isn’t whether or how much to increase benefits but how much to cut them[5].

That’s because the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, which funds benefits, is expected to be depleted[6] by 2034, at which point Social Security taxes alone will cover just 77% of scheduled benefits.

Social Security was originally conceived[7] in 1934 as a way to cut poverty among older Americans. Researchers have previously shown[8] that receiving Social Security income indeed reduces overall levels of poverty among older Americans, but they didn’t explicitly look at the impact on food security.

Since aging is often associated with increased medical expenses, these additional costs may offset any income gains seen from Social Security. Older adults with limited incomes may need to make difficult choices about what expenses to cover and may choose to prioritize health care expenses over food expenses.

Currently, 11% of adults age 60 or older[9] are food insecure, which is a little higher than the 10.5% for all U.S. households[10]. Seniors can begin receiving Social Security benefits as soon as age 62.

Our study suggests that cutting Social Security benefits would be likely to cause more retirees to struggle to access the food they need and push more retirees to enroll in government-sponsored programs such as SNAP, which provide funds to purchase food.

What still isn’t known

The impact of receiving Social Security benefits varies from group to group.

The small sample size of the data set we used limited our ability to fully explore this. Continuing this research using a larger nationally representative data set such as the Current Population Survey[11] could make it possible to explore this issue in more detail across different groups of people.

In addition, we did not explore exactly how Social Security benefits reduce food insecurity. Social Security benefits may have direct impacts by boosting income overall or by reducing fluctuations in income from month to month, allowing people to consistently acquire more healthy food. Social Security benefits may also affect food insecurity through indirect channels by improving physical or mental health. Future research that captures more detailed information about health and getting Social Security benefits could explore these impacts more closely.


  1. ^ Research Brief (
  2. ^ our recently published research (
  3. ^ food insecurity (
  4. ^ Panel Study of Income Dynamics (
  5. ^ but how much to cut them (
  6. ^ is expected to be depleted (
  7. ^ was originally conceived (
  8. ^ previously shown (
  9. ^ 11% of adults age 60 or older (
  10. ^ 10.5% for all U.S. households (
  11. ^ Current Population Survey (

Authors: Sophie Mitra, Professor of economics, Fordham University

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Metropolitan Business News

What questions to ask a bankruptcy lawyer

Bankruptcy is nothing new in this world. Most people who live in debt come to this extreme point in a moment in their life. There is no more convenient time to contact an attorney. But what do you... - avatar

How to Rank Higher on Google: 4 Effective Tips

Ranking on Google is crucial in a lot of businesses, but this is something that a lot of people struggle with. Fortunately, ranking high on Google can be much easier than you think if you know wha... - avatar

What Are Lead Magnets in Marketing?

Email marketing is a great way to cultivate relationships with potential customers. In fact, for every $1 you spend on an email marketing campaign, you may be able to return $32. But how do you ac... - avatar

Crafting The Perfect Social Media Marketing Strategy

Small businesses often find it difficult to create and execute a successful social media marketing strategy. This is because they don't have the time or resources to devote to it, and they're not ... - avatar

7 Things You Need To Know About Applying For ETIAS Online

The European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) was created to reduce the number of irregular migrants who attempt to enter Europe by requiring citizens of certain countries to ob...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital


You have and continue to have tremendous success as a “Brand Builder”. Tell our readers about how you found yourself in this unique and immensely creative career. It’s  hard to answer this question... - avatar

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion