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County most dependent in nation

— Social Security payments amount to 5 percent of the total income in urban counties. In counties with small cities, these payments amount to 8.2 percent of total income, and in rural counties such as Essex County, Social Security totals 9.3 percent of all personal income. More than one out of five Americans living in small cities and rural counties received some kind of Social Security check in 2009.

Judith Stallmann, an economist at the University of Missouri, explained that Social Security payments help generate the sales that keep a rural business afloat.

“We find that Social Security income can be the difference between success and failure for some local businesses,” Stallmann said. “If you took away, say, 10 percent of the demand, would that local business be able to remain open? Often it’s that 10 percent that keeps them going. Social Security is providing that margin.”

Social Security payments go to those over the age of 62 who have filed for benefits, to survivors of insured workers and to those with disabilities. The program is mainly funded by payroll taxes. In Essex County, 69.6 percent of recipients were retirees in 2009, 12.4 percent were survivors and 18.0 percent were disabled.

Changes to Social Security are being discussed in Congress, which is looking for ways to balance the larger federal budget. If benefits are cut — or if the eligibility age is increased — rural counties and small cities would be disproportionately affected, according to Peter Nelson.

“Cuts would have a bigger negative impact on rural places, absolutely,” Middlebury’s Professor Nelson said. “They are more dependent on Social Security.”

About the Authors

Bill Bishop is co-editor of The Daily Yonder (http://www.dailyyonder.com/), an online publication covering rural America, published by the Center for Rural Strategies (http://www.ruralstrategies.org/). He has owned a weekly newspaper in rural Texas and he has worked for newspapers in Texas and Kentucky. Dr. Roberto Gallardo is a research associate with the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University (http://srdc.msstate.edu/). This study was made possible with a grant from the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Research Note

Data included in this story comes from the federal Bureau for Economic Analysis and the Social Security Administration. The figures in this story are from 2009, unless otherwise noted. You can see and download charts for publication, a national map and data for every county in your state and the nation from the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University: http://srdc.msstate.edu/socialsecurity/.

The Daily Yonder denpubs@denpubs.com

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