Providing Periodic Personal Earnings and Benefit Statements to Workers Covered by Social Security

Gao ID: T-HRD-88-25 July 14, 1988

GAO discussed requiring the Social Security Administration (SSA) to provide periodic personal earnings and benefit statements to workers covered by social security. GAO found that: (1) 70 percent of the 25 million workers in defined benefit pension plans lacked knowledge of their eligibility for early or normal retirement; (2) from 1978 through 1984, SSA recorded $58.8 billion less in earnings than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); (3) about 9.7 million persons could have uncredited earnings and could lose an average of $17 a month in social security benefits; (4) SSA and IRS were slow in reconciling earnings differences; and (5) periodic social security statements with earnings and benefits information would heighten worker awareness of retirement planning needs. GAO also found that: (1) Congress would need to pass legislation to allow SSA access to mailing-address information in taxpayer files; (2) SSA would need to determine how and for whom it would estimate future earnings when estimating future retirement benefits; and (3) SSA was planning a multiphased project that would provide retirement information, first to workers who request it, and then to all workers over a 3-year cycle. GAO believes that SSA should phase in an initiative to provide people with better information about their earnings and benefits over a period of years, since that would allow flexibility to identify and address operational problems and consider benefits and costs.

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