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One in Five Rhode Islanders Now Receives Social Security

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Baby boomers are now reaching Social Security age and it’s showing in Rhode Island, with a record number receiving benefits, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics.

It is the highest number of recipients in Rhode Island in the Social Security program’s 75-year history, Kurt Czarnowski, the agency’s regional communications director, told The Providence Journal.

The number of Social Security beneficiaries in Rhode Island has been rising slowly but steadily. Nationwide, Social Security beneficiaries now number more than 52.5 million, up from 50.9 million as of December 2008, and 49.9 million as of December 2007.

The Journal lists the following reasons for the increases:

o Life expectancy: Americans are generally living longer, so they are collecting benefits for a longer period of time, says Corinne Calise Russo, director of the state Department of Elderly Affairs. For example, Arthur J. Latham Jr. has been drawing Social Security benefits for 35 years since his retirement from Providence Gas Co; he recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

o Baby boomers: The generation born between 1946 and 1964 has begun to enter retirement, swelling Social Security’s benefit rolls. The first baby boomer began collecting Social Security in February 2008.

o The economy: Some older workers who have been laid off and cannot find jobs amid one of the longest and deepest economic downturns since the Great Depression are choosing to start collecting Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62.

o Program expansion: When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on Aug. 14, 1935, it was intended solely to provide a source of income for certain categories of retired workers.

In Rhode Island, about two out of every 10 residents collect some type of Social Security benefit, government figures show. The program distributes more than $215.8 million each month to Rhode Island beneficiaries, whose monthly benefits average about $1,078 apiece.