BOSTON (CBS) – Almost 60 million Americans are receiving Social Security benefits in the form of retiree benefits, survivor benefits or disability benefits. Social Security benefits are not just for folks with an AARP membership card.

Social Security has been around for over 80 years. The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1935. This act created a social insurance program designed to pay retired workers age 65 or older a continuing income after they retired. The life expectancy of a 65-year-old then was about 10 years, today it’s over 20 years.

Early on, benefits were only paid to the worker. In 1939, Congress added survivor benefits and benefits for the retiree’s spouse and children. In 1956, disability benefits were added.

Another major change came about in 2000 with the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act, which eliminated the earnings test for those beneficiaries at or above normal retirement age.

In the past, Social Security benefits had been conditional on the requirement that the beneficiary be substantially retired, meaning you could earn only a limited amount of money while receiving Social Security benefits. If you exceeded that amount, you would lose some of your future Social Security benefits.

This is no longer true for retirees who have reached their full retirement age, which for this year is 66. If you have retired early and are between the ages of 62 and 66, you could lose some of your future Social Security benefits if you go back to work and earn more than $15,720 this year.

Social Security benefits have had an annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) since 1975 based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Only three times since then have we had a zero increase, 2010, 2011 and this year.

Social Security is a pay as you go system with today’s workers’ contributions helping to pay current benefits.

There are currently almost 3 workers for each Social Security beneficiary. By 2033, there will only be 2 workers for each beneficiary.

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