National LGBT Aging Roundtable: Social Security and its Importance to the LGBT Aging Community

April 2011 | National LGBT Aging Roundtable

There are those for whom the long-standing desire to privatize Social Security is once again gaining traction in some policy debates. There are some on both sides of the issue who want to make this a litmus test in the up-coming election. If not the desire to privatize (people would invest a portion of their Social Security in private accounts in the stock market), then we are hearing calls in many places to cut Social Security benefits by either raising the retirement age or recalculating the way benefits are determined. Both raise the specter of less money for us as we age. What you need to understand is this: LGBT Americans are underemployed, have little economic security, and for many of us, especially those of us who are disabled or over 65, Social Security is the only thing keeping us going.

Without Social Security, the rate of poverty among older adults would jump from just under 10% to over 50%. Nearly 90% of all elder households rely at least partially on this social insurance program, and nearly a third relies ENTIRELY on it. If we don't keep Social Security intact, our country faces an enormous economic crisis – and it will hit the LGBT community hard. Consider these facts:

  • The Williams Institute cites 12 studies showing a significant wage gap between homosexual and heterosexual men ranging anywhere from 10-32% lower wages for the same jobs.
  • The Williams Institute also notes that 22% of lesbian couples with children are classified "low income" households.
  • The National Black Justice Coalition reported in 2004 that Black same-sex couples have a lower median income than Black heterosexual couples by as much as $10,000 a year.
  • In California, the Transgender Law Center reports that one in four transgender people live below poverty, despite holding down jobs at a higher rate than their counterparts.
  • The AIDS Community Research Initiative of America found that over 50% of older adults wit HIV/AIDS rely on Social Security disability as a primary source of income.
  • The MetLife Study, "Still Out, Still Aging" reports that nearly 50% of our community expects to be working at least to age 70 because we can't afford to retire.
  • We are workers and families who have very little to set aside for our future. Social Security will be the most important economic safety net for our community when we are no longer able to work.
  • We are still unable to access those benefits to the same level as our heterosexual counterparts, and the impact on same-sex couples is enormous. In heterosexual married couples, the lower-wage earner can receive a "spousal benefit" that reflects the benefits her/his spouse has earned over a lifetime.
  • The lack of spousal benefits can cost an LGBT retired worker over thousands of dollars a year in lost benefits. Even though heterosexual and same-sex couples are equally reliant on Social Security in their retirement years, lesbian couples receive an average of 31.5% less in Social Security, and gay couples receive 17.8% less – the difference between survival and severe poverty.

We believe that there are more of us who are not in relationships, than those who are coupled. The truth is, we don't know because no one counts us. Still, those who are single are more reliant on the guaranteed benefit every month to escape poverty.

Cuts to Social Security benefits are not necessary to make the program solvent for the next 75 years as required by law. As of today, it is good for more than three decades. Cutting Social Security benefits will harm LGBT people as we age.


Key Facts about Social Security: This document presents what the Social Security provides and why cutting the benefits will not affect the fiscal deficit. This is a good overview document with talking points.

Raising the Retirement Age is Dangerous: This is a good overview of the impact and reasons not to cut benefits or raise the retirement age. We know that older women are more reliant on Social Security benefits as they age and many of the same realities affect aging LGBT people. This is a good comprehensive overview.

LGBT Older Adults and Social Security: This guide is a comprehensive look at older LGBT adults and Social Security. It includes facts about the program and information about how same-sex couples are discriminated against in current federal policy.