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Projection Methodology

The Office of Retirement Policy uses the Modeling Income in the Near Term, Version 6 (MINT6) microsimulation model to make all projections related to beneficiaries on this website. SSA's Office of the Chief Actuary makes Trust Fund solvency projections. MINT6 is built from Census survey data and Social Security's own administrative records, and is used to project 21st century retirement income, marital trends, Social Security benefits, income, and poverty. These projections allow researchers and policy analysts to study future retirement conditions such as income and poverty, as well as the effects of policy changes.

For more information on the model methodology, see the Urban Institute's MINT6 research paper.

Definitions—Measures and Labels Used In Projection Tables

Scheduled and Payable Benefits

Scheduled Benefits are those that current law promises. Payable Benefits are those that projected Trust Fund balances can finance. Payable benefits are an across the board reduction from Scheduled Benefits in a given year starting with the Trust Fund exhaustion in 2036, therefore Payable Benefits and Scheduled Benefits are the same in 2030. The SSA Actuaries estimate that the across the board reduction under a Payable baseline will be 21.8 percent in 2050 and 23.2 percent in 2070. These reductions would apply to the final benefit amounts, not the average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) or the primary insurance amount (PIA). Both the Scheduled Benefits tables and the Payable Benefits tables compare the respective baseline to a policy option built on top of Scheduled Benefits.

Table Subgroups

Sex: Female or Male.

Race/Ethnicity: We list Hispanics first; the rest of the groups are non-Hispanic.

Immigration: We differentiate between native born and foreign-born individuals.

Age: We begin at age 60 because it is the earliest eligibility age for any aged benefits under current law.

Marital Status: Refers only to the status in the year of analysis. An individual's marital status can change in the future and may have been different in the past.

Education: Is the reported number of years of education.

  • Graduate means >16 years of education,
  • Bachelor means 16 years of education,
  • Associate means 14–15 years of education,
  • High school means 12–13 years of education, and
  • Less Than 12 Years means <12 years of education.

Individual Income Quintile: Represents an individual's income, including:

  • his or her own earnings;
  • defined benefit pension income;
  • means-tested income;
  • non-means-tested income;
  • Social Security (scheduled benefits);
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) (split if married); and
  • asset income, which includes income from defined contribution plans (split if married).

We calculate the quintiles for each year for all elderly beneficiaries aged 60 or older. For example, in 2030, the individual incomes of all 60+ elderly beneficiaries are tabulated, the dollar thresholds for each quintile are determined, and each beneficiary is assigned to the appropriate quintile. The dollar ranges shown are in annual real 2012 dollars.

Household Income Quintile: Represents an individual's annual household income, including:

  • household earnings;
  • asset income, which includes income from defined contribution plans;
  • defined benefit pensions;
  • means-tested income;
  • non-means-tested income;
  • Social Security (scheduled benefits);
  • SSI; and
  • non-spousal co-residents' income.

This same money income amount is used to determine poverty status. We calculate the quintiles for each year for all elderly beneficiaries aged 60 or older as described above for individual income quintiles. The dollar ranges shown are in annual real 2012 dollars.

Shared Earnings Quintile: Represents the sum of wage-indexed shared lifetime total earnings. While other quintiles account only for the current spouse's benefits or earnings, this quintile accounts for all previous marriages as well. We divide the sum by 40 for presentation purposes, but earnings across a whole lifetime are included in the sum. If a person is single in a given year, all of his or her earnings that year are counted as shared earnings. If a person is married in a given year, half of the married couple's combined earnings that year are counted as shared earnings. We calculate the quintiles for each year for all elderly beneficiaries aged 60 or older. Wage indexing controls for differences across generations. The dollar ranges shown are in annual real 2012 dollars.

Beneficiary types include:

  • Retired worker: receives only a retired worker (OASI) benefit on his or her earnings record.
  • Spousal & Worker: receives a retired worker benefit and a partial aged spousal benefit.
  • Spousal only: receives an aged spousal benefit.
  • Survivor & Worker: receives a retired worker benefit and a partial aged survivor benefit.
  • Survivor only: receives an aged survivor benefit.
  • Retired Disabled: formerly disabled, but is at Normal Retirement Age or older and thus receives an OASI worker benefit and possibly an aged spousal or survivor benefit.
  • Disabled Worker: receives a disabled worker benefit and possibly an aged spousal or survivor benefit.
  • None: Entitled later: no benefit as of the analysis year, but will take up benefits in a later year.
  • None: Never receives: never receives a Social Security benefit. See the Never Beneficiaries fact sheet for more information.

Claiming Age: The age a respondent starts receiving Social Security benefits. The breakouts may not be ideal for analysis purposes, but were chosen to provide enough of a sample size that the category would not disappear when we subset the overall population (see Sample Size Restrictions).

Quarters of Coverage: The total Social Security credits a person earns in his or her lifetime. Credits can be used as a proxy for number of years of work and have been used to create work-effort tests in policy options.

Own AIME Quintile: The individual's own average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) for that year, wage-indexed up from the year of initial eligibility minus two to allow comparisons of AIMEs across multiple birth cohorts. The dollar ranges shown are in monthly real 2012 dollars.

Paying AIME Quintile: The AIME that determines the total benefit paid to an individual, even if the individual has a worker benefit of his or her own. This quintile categorizes auxiliary beneficiaries according to their higher-earning spouse's AIME, so that policies that affect higher earners do not appear to be targeted at beneficiaries with a low worker benefit but a higher overall benefit. The paying AIME is wage-indexed up from the year of initial eligibility minus two to allow comparisons of AIMEs across multiple birth cohorts. The dollar ranges shown are in monthly real 2012 dollars.

Household Benefit Quintile: Represents the sum of individual, spouse, and any child benefits paid to the household in the year. This captures benefits beyond the individual's own. Results that appear to affect lower AIME beneficiaries may be due to low- and high-earning workers who are married to one another and this quintile controls for those higher-earning spouses. The dollar ranges shown are in monthly real 2012 dollars.

Adjusted Gross Income: The adjusted gross income from the individual's projected federal income tax, a measure used as part of means-tested policy options. The adjusted gross income value reported will be for the entire tax unit, which is generally either single, if the respondent is single; head of household, if respondent is single with kids; or married filing jointly, if the respondent is married. The dollar ranges shown are in annual real 2012 dollars.

Affected Threshold for Those With Lower or Higher Benefits

To be considered affected, the degree of difference from Scheduled or Payable Benefits must be equal to or greater than 1%, or equal to or less than -1%. We consider those with differences of less than 1% to be unaffected.

The amount of the difference required for an individual to be considered affected can change the analytical results to a great degree. Beneficiaries affected by rule changes but who will still receive the same benefit amount are not considered affected in our projections.

Median Percent Change vs. Scheduled/Payable

We produce the median percent difference by calculating the percent differences for each individual, ordering this range, and then using the middle value when there is an odd number of individuals or the average of the two middle values when there is an even number of individuals.

Poverty Rate

We calculate the poverty rates and number in poverty based on the poverty thresholds supplied by the MINT model for each respondent. We use the official poverty thresholds, which are based on family size and elderly status. The poverty tables on this website generally show poverty only for beneficiaries.

Under Scheduled Benefits, we project elderly and beneficiary poverty rates to decline throughout this century because income generally grows at the rate of wages while the poverty thresholds are indexed to price growth. See the Why Will Poverty Decline for Social Security Beneficiaries Aged 60 and Older? fact sheet for more information.

Sample Size Restrictions

If the sample size is less than 20 for any subgroup, the category in which the subset appears (for example, benefit type or age) is not displayed for confidentiality reasons. If an entire table has a sample size of less than 20 observations, the table is not produced at all.