“Younger people can feel confident that Social Security will still be around when they need it to cushion their retirement.” – Ronald Reagan, 1982
Whenever I receive my Social Security Statement, I typically just scan the estimated benefit and toss it in the file with my tax records. This last time I actually decided to read all four pages and check out the links on the Social Security Administration website… this is when I learned that our benefits are greatly diminished because we are gay and cannot legally marry.
But before I rant about the inequities, let me explain how you can calculate your benefits. The annual mailer that we receive is just the tip of the iceberg… the website has a couple of useful calculators:
- Quick Calculator: This calculator gives you a simple, rough estimate when you input your date of birth and this year’s earnings.
- Online Calculator: Input your date of birth and your complete earnings history to get a benefit estimate. You may project your future earnings until your retirement date.
- Detailed Calculator: This calculator provides the most precise estimates. It must be downloaded and installed on your computer.
Here’s what the Quick Calculator spit out for me:
Your estimated monthly benefit amount, beginning at age 67 in 2034, is $2,311.00.
Social Security benefits are the foundation on which to build a financially secure retirement. Savings and pensions also are key components of your retirement plan.
For the disability and survivors estimates, we assumed that you became disabled or died today. We did not use future earnings in calculating those estimates.
Disability Monthly benefit amount
Your spouse and children may also qualify for benefits.
Survivors Monthly benefit amount
Your child $1,677.00
Your spouse caring for your child $1,677.00
Your spouse at normal retirement age $2,237.00
Family maximum $3,915.80
Of course, this is not totally accurate since spouse isn’t legally defined. As my domestic partner, I might refer to Jeanine as my spouse, but the federal government doesn’t recognize her as such.
Here’s what I mean. HRC explains a few things about Social Security Survivor Benefits:
Although gay and lesbian Americans contribute to Social Security throughout their working lives, their families are denied the same benefits heterosexual Americans receive upon the death of a spouse. Specifically:
- Partners who are Retired or Disabled are denied surviving spouse benefits because they were denied the right to marry.
- Partners raising children are denied Social Security surviving parent benefits because they were previously denied the right to legally marry.
- Children may also be denied Social Security surviving child benefits if the deceased parent was barred from securing a legal relationship to his or her child through second-parent adoption.
This loss of income can be substantial. For example, surviving partners who are 60 years old will lose an average of $9,780 a year — or approximately $166,000 if they live to the average life expectancy of 77. (Based on Social Security Administration calculations that Social Security survivor benefits averaged $815 per month in 2002.)
If there are surviving children, the loss of income is potentially even greater. For example, when a working parent was denied the opportunity to establish a legal relationship to his or her child through second-parent adoption, that child will also be denied the right to Social Security survivor benefits upon that parent’s death. This could translate to a loss of $900 per month, or $10,000 per year, for a child whose parent worked for at least 10 years and earned at least $50,000 in the last year of his or her life.
Last year, legislation introduced in the U.S House of Representatives as reported by The Advocate:
Would amend the Social Security Act to afford same-sex couples the same benefits, responsibilities, and obligations as others who pay into Social Security. The Equal Access to Social Security Act, H.R. 5152, would add the term ‘permanent partner’ to the Social Security Act in addition to the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife,’ which are already present in the legal code.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler:
Does not address same-sex marriage but does provide gay and lesbian couples with some of the benefits married couples enjoy under the Social Security system. Under H.R. 5152, children of same-sex couples would be able to collect survivor benefits in the event of a parent’s death, just as children of federally recognized married couples may do.
In the Social Security system, gays and lesbians are “unmarried” and their benefits will be treated as such. Until the laws change, it’s one more reason our community needs to be adequately prepared for retirement. Save away!
Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.