Social Security is the single most important financial safety net program for older adults and makes the difference between poverty and a living-wage retirement for a significant portion of older Americans. Almost all elder households (89 percent) receive Social Security, and almost a third of single retirees receive income only from Social Security.
Data show that same-sex and heterosexual couples are similarly dependent on Social Security to maintain a living-wage income. However, contrary to stereotypes, LGBT older adults as a group are poorer and less financially secure than American elders as a whole.
Also, many older LGBT people lived the majority of their working years in an era when discrimination was widespread and legal (as it still is in many parts of the country) and job opportunities were limited.
For LGBT elders, a lifetime of employment discrimination translates into earning disparities, reduced lifelong earnings, smaller Social Security payments, and fewer opportunities to build pensions. Government safety net programs such as Social Security then exclude LGBT elders, creating further economic challenges.
Despite similar reliance on Social Security, and high poverty rates among LGBT older adults, LGBT elders are not equally eligible for Social Security benefits. The Social Security benefits denied to LGBT elders include the "spousal benefit," the "survivor benefit" and the "death benefit."
Among the Social Security benefits denied to LGBT elders, the lack of survivor benefits is the most harmful. Not only has the surviving spouse just been widowed, but the legal invisibility of the partner's relationship to the deceased could now leave him or her in financial crisis.
To learn more about SAGE's federal advocacy work on Social Security, please contact Aaron Tax, Director of Federal Government Relations, at 202-640-2705 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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