Hyman misleadingly claimed that Social Security “discriminates against minorities”

On the August 29 edition of “The Point,” Sinclair Broadcast Group commentator Mark Hyman repeated the misleading claim that Social Security “discriminates against minorities that have shorter life expectancies” because African-Americans and Hispanics have fewer years to collect benefits than whites do.

In fact, Hispanics have a longer life expectancy after retirement age than the majority of Americans, and life expectancy discrepancies between blacks and whites are largely due to higher mortality rates for infants and children, not shorter life spans for those who have already reached retirement age. Further, both the Social Security Administration (SSA) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) have noted that African-Americans and Hispanics often receive a higher rate of return from Social Security than whites because of the system's progressive benefit structure.

Hyman suggested that both African-Americans and Hispanics are shortchanged by Social Security because their average life expectancies are only marginally greater than the age at which a retiree may begin collecting benefits:

HYMAN: The system discriminates against minorities that have shorter life expectancies. The retirement age to draw full benefits is being increased to 67. The average black male in America lives to be just over 68 years old. He can pay into Social Security for his entire working life, then collect for just a year before - poof - he dies. Hispanics also have a shorter life expectancy than do whites.

But according to a 2004 SSA fact sheet titled "Hispanic Americans and Social Security," Hispanics who live to 65 live longer after age 65 (the current retirement age) than the average American, therefore benefiting more from the current Social Security system:

With longer life expectancies, elderly Hispanics will live more years in retirement and benefit from Social Security's cost-of-living protections.

  • Hispanics tend to have higher life expectancies at age 65 than the majority of the population.
    • Hispanic men who are age 65 in 2004 can expect to live to age 85, compared to age 81 for all men.
    • Hispanic women who are age 65 in 2004 can expect to live to age 88, compared to age 85 for all women.

Additionally, according to the report "Health, United States, 2004," compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, the difference in life expectancy between blacks and whites who survive until age 65 is only about two years (depending on birth cohort). Hyman's claim also ignores Social Security's survivor benefits, which are passed on to family members after a worker's death.

Further, both the SSA and the GAO have noted that because Social Security's benefit structure is progressive -- i.e., lower-income workers get more from Social Security benefits than what they paid in taxes, while higher-income workers get less than what they paid in -- minorities often actually receive a higher return than whites. Current SSA chief actuary Stephen Goss and former chief actuary Robert J. Myers separately noted in 1998 that the rate of return on Social Security for African-Americans and Hispanics is equal to or greater than for whites, as Media Matters for America has documented. Similarly, GAO concluded in an April 2003 report titled “Social Security and Minorities” that "[i]n the aggregate, blacks and Hispanics have higher disability rates and lower lifetime earnings, and thus receive greater benefits relative to taxes than whites."

“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 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.