Social Security: a health program?


A new report and website highlights the vital role Social Security plays in the lives of Missourians. Social Security benefits collected in the state total almost $18 billion each year, and when the flow of those dollars through the economy is included, the impact exceeds $32 billion.

More than 1 in 5 Missourians receive Social Security benefits. In several Missouri counties – Hickory, Benton, and Ozark – these benefits go to one-third of residents and make up over 15 percent of personal income for the total population.

A common view is that Social Security is only for the elderly. Of particular note in this report is how many children are supported, either directly or indirectly, by the program. In Missouri alone 60,000 children receive these benefits.

Social Security, as its name says, is the primary safety net for Americans. Income and health are strongly related, so it is not surprising that Social Security positively affects the health of recipients. The money from Social Security changes the circumstances of people’s lives – it often provides the difference in getting the basics that contribute to health, such as shelter, food, and transportation. As a dependable source of support, Social Security also provides an important level of psychological well-being by minimizing stress about future income. Given these benefits, it is not surprising that recent research has found links between Social Security and longer life.

Research on the health benefits of other income programs reinforces the idea that Social Security provides health benefits. The Earned Income Tax Credit, for example, has been associated with reduced incidence of low birthweight (a risk factor for infant mortality), decreased symptoms of depression, and improved self-reported mental and physical health. Child Development Accounts (CDAs) – asset-building accounts created at birth – have been found to improve some parents’ psychological well-being.

CDAs have two important Missouri connections. First, the concept itself, along with leading research about it, were developed at Washington University. In fact, Jason Purnell, lead of For the Sake of All, was a co-author on this research. In addition, expanding CDAs was a recommendation in the Forward Through Ferguson Report released by the Ferguson Commission.

Health and well-being is influenced by many factors, and income support programs play an important part. I encourage you to visit to learn more about the vital role Social Security plays in Missouri. I’ll be blogging more about health, health care, and the movement toward integration in upcoming posts.