The Social Security Statement: Background, Implementation, and Recent Developments

Author:Barbara A. Smith and Kenneth A. Couch
Social Securit y Bulletin, Vol. 74, No. 2, 2014 1
In 1995, the Social Security Administration (SSA)
  
to workers in selected age groups. The purpose of
these statements is threefold: to inform workers about
 -
ings records are accurate. Initially, the statement was
known as the  
Statement (PEBES ) and was sent only to workers near-
ing retirement. By 2000, it was renamed the Social
Security Stateme nt (or, simply, the Statement) and sent
to all workers aged 25 or older.1 It was the largest cus-
tomized mailing ever under taken by a federal agency
(SSA n.d. a).
Although the statement represented a historic effort
and required substantial resources and manpower,
no comprehensive description of its development and
implementation exists. This art icle provides such a
description (along with the statement’s implementa-
tion schedule), which may be useful to researchers
studying the statement’s effect on workers’ retirement
decisions and knowledge of the program.
 
 
before Congress mandated an automatically issued
statement. It then presents the statement’s imple-
mentation schedule, as included in the authorizing
the agency phased in automatic mailings and how it
responded to budgetary const raints by suspending
the mailing of the printed version of the statement
in 2011 and launching an onli ne version in 2012.2
It also discusses the agency’s decision to resume
mailing the Statement to workers of selected ages in
2014. The article next describes how the statement’s
content and appearance have changed, and how the
statement relates to SSA’s strategic plans. It concludes
Selected Abbreviations
  
PEBES  
SSA Social Securit y Admini stration
      
   
      
source is reques ted. The Bulletin is available on the w eb at http://www.soci s/ssb/ 
presented in the Bulle tin are those of the authors and do not ne cessarily represent the vie ws of the Social Security Admin istration.
by Barbara A. Smith and Kenneth A. Couch*
  -
  
began mailing in 2000 to all workers aged 25 or older. Details about the statement’s background and imple-
mentation should be useful to researchers st udying the statement’s effect on workers’ retirement decisions and
knowledge of the program. The article also descr ibes the suspension of the printed version of the statement in
 
 -
 
Social Security.
 -
sioned to measure public knowledge and understand-
ing of Social Security and of the Statement itself.
Appendices present a chronology summar izing the
statement’s history along with samples of the State-
ment and accompanyi ng inserts.
 
information directly to workers, access to ea rnings
records had been available to workers since soon after
the program began in 1935. The Social Security Act
Amendments of 1939 stated that the Social Security
Board (precursor to SSA) “shall establish and main-
tain records of the amounts of wages paid to each
individual…and, upon request, shall inform any indi-
vidual…of the amounts of wages of such individual
and the periods of payments shown by such records
at the time of such request.”3 On October 8, 1940, the
Social Security Board established regu lations govern-
ing, among other things, the revision of wage records
by individuals (SSA n.d. c).4
As a result, individuals were able to review and,
where necessary, initiate corrections to their earni ngs
records. Individuals desiri ng to review their earni ngs
ing information including Social Secur ity number
and date of birth. Upon receiving the form, SSA
would mail a copy of the worker’s earnings histor y
to the address listed on the postca rd. If there were
any discrepancies between the SSA earn ings record
and the worker’s personal records, the worker could
 
errors (SSAB 2009).
From the 1960s to the early 1980s, SSA consid-
ered, and in some cases implemented, programs to
provide more information to workers about their
gram, which involved sending letters to older insured
Throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s, SSA
 
well as earnings statements, provide statements to all
workers instead of only those approaching retirement
age, and send statements automatically instead of
only upon request (SSA 1994). However, the agency
was concerned about the feasibility of such initia-
tives, which would break with the SSA tradition of
 
 -
 
amounts they would eventually receive. Finally, at
that time, SSA did not have addresses for workers
currently contributi ng payroll or self-employment
taxes, making automatic maili ngs impossible. In the
who requested them. However, because this service
was not widely publicized, less than 2 percent of
ment (SSAB 2009).
having SSA provide workers with information about
National Commission on Social Security, appointed by
President Carter pursu ant to the 1977 Social Security
  
tions” to workers requesting them.5 The report a dded
 -
cally to all covered workers would be desirable (SSA
1994) .6 On Capitol Hill, Senator Daniel Patrick
  
SSA send workers information on the Social Security
In 1988, interest converged from both inside and
outside SSA in providing workers with information
 
introduced S. 2684, a bill mandating that SSA issue
 -
begin providing the PEBES on request.8 The PEBES
provided workers with their earnings hist ory; the
amount of Social Security taxes they paid; esti mates of
age (62), the full retirement age, and age 70; estimates
of maximum earnings subject to Social Security taxes,
Social Security tax rat es, Social Security credits, cred-
 
estimates were calculated.
No further act ion was taken on S. 2684. In January
 
 

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