The first person to receive a monthly Social Security retirement benefit, Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, earned quite a return on her tax dollars.
Fuller paid $24.75 in payroll taxes, which is used to fund Social Security, over three years while working as a legal secretary. She retired at age 65 in November 1939. On Jan. 31, 1940, she received her first Social Security check of $22.54. From then until 1970 when she died at age 100, Fuller collected a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security retirement benefits, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Since Fuller got her first check, billions more have been sent out. This January, more than 42 million people received checks totaling $54.1 billion in monthly Social Security retirement benefits, according to the latest data from the agency. The average retired worker got a monthly benefit of $1,331. The maximum benefit a worker who retired at full retirement age can receive this year is $2,663 per month. (People who delay claiming their benefits can receive even more.)
But it's fair to wonder if those monthly payments will continue to come for future generations. If Congress does nothing, all of Social Security's trust funds are projected to be depleted by 2033. The SSA projects it will only have enough money from payroll taxes to cover three-quarters of the benefits it has promised retirees, according to the 2014 trustee's report.