Social Security’s Peculiar “Entitlement” Dilemma - AMAC Foundation

“What a curious power words have.”

The subheading, attributed to Polish journalist and Auschwitz concentration camp survivor Tadeusz Borowski, puts a fine point on one of the most misunderstood terms used in political and cultural commentary regarding Social Security. To those receiving Social Security benefits earned through legal participation in the American workforce, the term “entitlement” is often viewed as an insult because it’s equated to something along the lines of a government handout available to anyone simply because they exist. In popular rhetoric, “entitled” often conjures up images of someone receiving a benefit as a birthright, and what’s lost in the emotional reaction to the word is the simple fact that one can only receive benefits based on an eligible work record.

As unpopular as it is, “entitlement” is a technical, legal term when applied to Social Security benefits. It’s root— “title”—relates to Title II of the Social Security Act (the Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Benefits Act) overseen by the Social Security Administration. “Title” in this context simply refers to a name by which something is known, and the second chapter of the Social Security Act is referred to as Title II, wherein the details of how one becomes eligible for benefits are spelled out.

This article is not in defense of the word “entitlement” to describe Social Security benefits, it’s merely an explanation of why the term is used. Unfortunately, the pejorative nature of the term in today’s cultural conversation causes many to view its use as judgmental, often prompting the popular refrain, “It’s not an entitlement, I earned it!” For this reason, and to avoid confrontation, many pundits and columnists would do well to substitute turns of phrase that highlight the “earned” nature of Social Security benefits and eschew use of the inflammatory “entitlement” when discussing Social Security.

This article is presented as a service of the AMAC Foundation. If you need assistance on Social Security matters, contact our free Social Security Advisory Service at 888-750-2622 or via email at [email protected].

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