Social Security: A Safety Net for Older Americans

In May, we recognize Older Americans Month to acknowledge older Americans and their contributions to the nation.

More than 40 million people in the United States are 65 or older. By 2035, the U.S. Census Bureau projects this number will double, which makes improving the quality of life for older Americans even more important as we look to the future. It is Social Security's priority to provide a safety net for older Americans. You can learn more about Social Security at

The main reason Social Security was established 80 years ago was to help older Americans. For many older Americans, Social Security benefits are their only source of retirement income. Social Security payments continue for life and are adjusted to keep pace with inflation. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) estimates that these benefits help keep 35 percent of older Americans out of poverty.

A great tool for people of all ages is the my Social Security account. With a personalized my Social Security account, you can:

  • Get an estimate of future benefits, if you still work.
  • Get an instant letter with proof of current benefits.
  • Manage your benefits.

Visit and join the millions of people who have already created accounts to help them plan for retirement.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935. (U.S. Library of Congress photo.)

This May also marks the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act. Congress passed the Act in 1965 in response to a lack of community social services for older persons. Medicare, in effect since July 1, 1966, will also celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. Medicare provides health insurance to more than 42 million Americans age 65 and older. If you aren't familiar with the four parts of Medicare, they are:

  • Part A (hospital insurance):  Hospital insurance helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility (following a hospital stay), some home health care, and hospice care.
  • Part B (medical insurance):  Medical insurance helps pay for doctors' services and many other medical services and supplies that hospital insurance doesn't cover.
  • Part C (Medicare Advantage plans):  If you have Medicare Parts A and B, you can join a Medicare Advantage plan. Private companies offer Medicare Advantage plans approved by Medicare. These plans generally help you pay the medical costs not covered by Medicare Part A and B.
  • Part D (prescription drug coverage):  Prescription drug coverage helps pay for medications doctors prescribe for treatment.

To learn more about applying for Medicare, read How To Apply Online For Medicare Only. To learn more about Social Security, read Understanding the Benefits. These and other publications are available at

Contributor Kirk Larson is a public affairs specialist with Social Security Western Washington.