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More than a fifth of the population in 17 states received Social Security benefits last year

Trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia in this 2005 photo. (Bradley C. Bower/AP)

More than a fifth of the population in 17 states received social security benefits last year, according to recent data from the Social Security Administration.

The data, published earlier this month, offers a state-by-state view of the program’s beneficiaries and payouts as of December 2013. On Monday, a new, official report from the Social Security Board of Trustees predicted the program will have enough money to pay all the retirement and disability benefits it owes until 2033.

What follows is a look at how Social Security benefits has been distributed by state, as of December 2013. Seniors — persons age 65 or older — accounted for roughly 70 percent of the population receiving Social Security benefits, which includes retirement, survivors and disability benefits. Retirement benefits accounted for nearly three fourths of all Social Security benefits paid out in December.

Nearly 1 in 4 West Virginians received Social Security

Social Security beneficiaries made up the smallest share of the population in Alaska and the largest in West Virginia. In Alaska, just under 12 percent of the population were beneficiaries, while the same was true of just under 25 percent (1 in 4) West Virginians.

The 17 states where more than a fifth of the population received benefits were: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia.

But a state’s senior population may be partially responsible: States where seniors accounted for larger shares of the population tended to have more of their residents receiving benefits as depicted in the graph below.

The relationship between a state’s senior population and its Social Security beneficiary population. (Niraj Chokshi)

In four states, more than 19 in 20 seniors received benefits

Since the proportion of seniors seems to be related to the share of the population receiving benefits, the above map compares each state’s senior population.

The senior population in California is least likely to have taken advantage of the program, with 83.1 percent (or roughly 5 in 6) receiving benefits. South Dakota’s senior population was most likely to have participated in the program, with 97.4 percent of seniors there receiving benefits.

In four states — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont and New Hampshire — more than 19 in 20 seniors received Social Security last December.

How much beneficiaries in every state received at least a thousand dollars

Social Security recipients got the most bang for their buck in New Jersey, where the average beneficiary — of retirement, survivors or disability benefits — got a $1,326 monthly payout. The average payout was smallest in Louisiana, where each recipient claimed $1,075.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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