Today’s post was inspired by a question from David, who asked:
Wouldn’t [Captain America] be able to collect Social Security? After all, he must be in his nineties by now!
Collecting Social Security benefits has a few different requirements, some of which vary according to the age of the beneficiary. Earth-616 Steve Rogers was born on July 4, 1922, which would make him 90 now. Most importantly, he was born before 1937, so his full-benefits retirement age is 65 (as opposed to 67 for someone born in 1960 or later).
We’re assuming that his age would be calculated according to the calendar rather than his biological age, but it isn’t 100% clear from the law which is correct. The main part of the Social Security law (42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq) refers to people having “attained the age of X” rather than referring directly to their date of birth. Luckily, comic book Cap has been unfrozen long enough that it doesn’t matter. Rogers was frozen, at the latest, on April 18, 1945 (i.e. at the age of 22) and then thawed out in 1964 (i.e. at the calendar age of 42). That would give him a biological age of 70 and a calendar age of 90. So however his age is calculated, he’s eligible to collect benefits. The only question is: how much would he get?
Although the Social Security program had started by the time Rogers enlisted, members of the military did not pay Social Security tax. However, military service from September 16, 1940 through December 31, 1956 is credited at $160/month in earnings, if the service member meets one of the following:
- They were honorably discharged after 90 or more days of service, or they were released because of a disability or injury received in the line of duty; or
- They are still on active duty; or
- They veteran died while on active duty and someone is applying for survivors benefits.
Rogers’s special circumstances don’t quite fit any of these, but let’s assume he was either honorably discharged or has returned to active duty. Since we have no idea how much Captain America earned during his post-thaw years, let’s assume that $160/month was his only eligible earnings.
Rogers enlisted in 1941. I’m not sure when, exactly, so let’s say March (when Captain America #1 was published). That would give 48 months of service. At $160/month that’s $7,680 in credited earnings. Because Rogers was born before 1929, he only needs to have accumulated 6 credits in order to be eligible for retirement benefits. Before 1978 credits were called “quarters of coverage” and required earning at least $50 in a 3 month calendar quarter. Rogers’s $160/month earnings credit would easily cover that, so he would have no problem accumulating enough credits.
Unfortunately, calculating Social Security benefits is complicated, and none of the calculators I’ve found know how to handle Rogers’s particular situation. To get a rough idea of how much he might be eligible for, I calculated the benefits for someone born July 4, 1922 who made $11,086 in 1951 (i.e. $7680 in 1951 dollars) and then $200/year through 1959 (the minimum amount needed to become eligible for retirement benefits) and then retired at 65. The result? A whopping $73 per month, or $876 per year, and that’s in 2012 dollars!
Of course, Captain America almost certainly continued to earn money during his post-thaw years. But because Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 highest-earning years, Rogers’s 20 frozen years (during which he presumably earned nothing) put a significant hole in his earnings history. If he retired in 1987 (at calendar age 65) he would have only about 27 working years behind him. Those missing 8 years could substantially reduce his benefits. By delaying retirement until age 70 he could both add more working years and earn a delayed retirement benefit.
Captain America is likely eligible to draw Social Security retirement benefits, regardless of how his age is calculated, but his limited wartime earnings and years spent frozen mean that his benefits might not be all that huge. On the other hand, since he can continue working indefinitely due to the effects of the super soldier serum, he’s probably not dependent on those benefits.