Why Blacks, Hispanics Contact Social Security More Often
In our high-tech world, virtually any transaction or communication can be executed online.
Yet, despite the range of services that Social Security offers on its website, two-thirds of older Americans thinking about retiring or planning to start up their benefits speak directly to someone at the agency, either by phone or at a field office, at some point during the process.
For years, the agency has allowed workers to create an online my Social Security account, which helps with retirement planning by laying out their monthly benefit levels, depending on the age they start. This is very useful information when workers are trying to determine how long they might want to wait before claiming their benefits, which can also be done online.
But Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to contact the agency directly for help before and during the process of claiming their benefits, according to a new study based on a survey by the Center for Retirement Research and funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
A better understanding of these racial differences is crucial because the steady stream of retiring baby boomers is straining the agency’s resources. On top of that, the retirements of Social Security personnel make it even more difficult to deliver the personal services boomers need.
The researchers found some small racial differences in why Blacks and Hispanics contact Social Security. During the process of investigating their benefits, Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Whites to inquire about whether they are eligible, when they are eligible, or the amount they would receive in their monthly benefit checks once they claim them.
Hispanics more frequently contact the agency for another reason: data errors they find, for example, in their work histories or wage records, which are the basis for determining the amount they’ll receive in retirement.
When it comes time to submit an application, Blacks are the most likely to contact Social Security staff. They cite an unfamiliarity with using the Internet as one of their main reasons for doing so.
Given the reasons for contacting Social Security, previous research has found that policy changes that make it easier to get answers to basic inquiries or avoid obstacles online could reduce the share of boomers who call or visit an office from about 60 percent to about 40 percent.
The researcher, Jean-Pierre Aubry, concludes that additional policies to perhaps improve boomers’ awareness of the agency’s online services or revamp its website “could help equalize racial differences.”
Ultimately though, he said, the racial differences seem minor compared with the basic finding that almost two-thirds of boomers – Black, White, and Hispanic – still rely on direct contact during the process of investigating and claiming their benefits.
To read this brief by Jean-Pierre Aubry, see “How Does the Social Security Claiming Process Vary by Race?”
The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium. The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.