By itself, the average monthly retirement benefit of around $1,400 is enough to keep income above the poverty level for a single retiree, and it comes just shy of the poverty level for a household with two people. Given how a large percentage of Social Security recipients rely on the benefits the program provides for the vast majority of their total income, Social Security's impact continues to be vital in fighting poverty.
However, not everyone gets that $1,400 average monthly benefit, and some believe that the federal government can do more to ensure that everyone stays out of poverty in retirement. Much of that discussion centers on Social Security's minimum benefit provision – a feature that has lost almost all of its power over the years but that could make a comeback if some lawmakers have their way.
Basics of Social Security's minimum benefit
Social Security's special minimum benefit offers an alternative way for recipients to calculate their benefits. The idea is to offer a higher number to certain low-income participants than the traditional benefit formula would produce, resulting in bigger monthly checks.
A worker has to have at least 11 years of earnings to qualify for the special minimum benefit, with a minimum amount earned each year. That minimum gets changed every year based on inflation. For 2019, a person would have to earn at least $14,805 to get credit for the year for special minimum benefit purposes.