On the August 30 broadcast of "The Point," Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman continued his "Social Security Realities" series with more Social Security misinformation. Hyman falsely claimed that if both members of a married couple work, both "cannot collect full benefits" and that spouses who worked for less than 10 years because they "gave up [their] career in order to raise a family ... get diddly-squat." In fact, neither claim is true: Married Social Security recipients are eligible for all the benefits that they have earned for themselves. In addition, if those benefits are less than half of what their spouse receives, they also receive spousal benefits that increase their overall benefits to an amount equal to half their partner's benefit. And regardless of whether a spouse worked less than 10 years, he or she is entitled to spousal and survivor benefits (ex-spouses from a marriage that lasted at least 10 years are also eligible for these benefits).
Hyman also made misleading claims about Social Security on the August 29 broadcast of "The Point."
Hyman's "Day 3 of little known facts about Social Security" focused on married couples. He claimed that both spouses cannot collect the full benefits to which they are entitled. This is false. In fact, the Social Security Administration (SSA) notes that "When each member of a married couple works in employment covered under Social Security ... their lifetime earnings are calculated independently to determine their Social Security benefit amounts. Therefore each spouse receives a monthly benefit amount based on his or her own earnings. Couples are not penalized simply because they are married."
Hyman then misleadingly stated, "Most often women -- typically, the lower income earner -- do not collect their full benefits. They share their husband's benefits." This is also incorrect. As the SSA makes clear in the "Retirement Planner" section of its website, lower-income earners still collect their full benefits, but, if those benefits would amount to less than half of their spouse's benefits, they are also entitled to a spousal benefit to bring their total to an amount equal to half their partner's (not a "share" of "their husband's benefits" as Hyman stated):
Even if he or she has never worked under Social Security, your spouse at full retirement age can receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount and can qualify on your record for Medicare at age 65.
If your spouse has also worked under Social Security -- If your spouse is eligible for retirement benefits on his or her own record, we will always pay that amount first. But if the spouse benefit on your record is a higher amount, he or she will get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount. It doesn't matter if your spouse starts getting benefits before, after, or at the same time you do - we will check both records to make sure that your spouse gets the higher amount. [Italics added]
Hyman's further claim that a stay-at-home parent would receive "diddly-squat" unless he or she had personally worked for 10 years confused eligibility for spousal benefits with the normal eligibility requirements. While a person is required to work at least 10 years to receive his or her own benefits, spousal benefits depend entirely on the spouse's eligibility. A spouse receives those benefits "[e]ven if he or she has never worked under Social Security."
In addition, spouses and surviving children are eligible for substantial survivor benefits. Divorced couples whose marriage lasted for at least 10 years still qualify for both spousal and survivor benefits.
Although Hyman correctly pointed out that a "high-income single-earner couple" would receive higher combined benefits than a two-earner couple who earned the same total amount, it is worth noting that this claim relies on factoring in the same spousal benefits that he subsequently ignored to claim a spouse who worked less than 10 years because he or she "gave up [their] career in order to raise a family" would get "diddly-squat."
From the August 30 broadcast of "The Point":
HYMAN: Fact #5: Social Security discriminates against two-career couples. In spite of paying into the system for a lifetime, both spouses cannot collect full benefits. Most often women -- typically, the lower-income earner -- do not collect their full benefits. They share their husband's benefits. As far as Social Security is concerned, the working spouse would have been better off not working and instead just collected spousal benefits.
A high-income single-earner couple could receive higher benefits than a two-income earning couple even if their combined income was the exact same as the high-income single earner couple. This isn't fair.
Fact #6: If you worked for less than 10 years, you get nothing. So if you are a woman, who gave up a career in order to raise a family, you get diddly-squat.
"The Point" is a two-minute "news and commentary" segment aired daily by Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest single owner/operator of TV stations in the United States. Media Matters for America leads SinclairAction.com, a coalition of groups and individuals protesting Sinclair's continued misuse of public airwaves to broadcast one-sided, politically charged programming without a counterpoint.