Social Security large part of rural economies

Social Security large part of rural economies

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A recent report detailing the impact of one federal entitlement program on rural economies is an eye-opener.

For instance, it says Orangeburg County would have lost $232 million of its total personal income - about 8.6 percent - if local Social Security recipients didn't receive their monthly benefits.

In 2009, Social Security beneficiaries represented 21.8 percent of the total Orangeburg County population. In Bamberg and Calhoun counties, that figure was 22.9 percent of the total population.

Bamberg County Chamber of Commerce co-president Jerry Bell said he hasn't seen the figures but noted one of several factors could be at work.

"I don't know if it means we have a larger population of aging individuals or those who are in some way disadvantaged," Bell said. "A lot of our children who go off to college don't come back because they go elsewhere to find jobs. In some cases they don't come back home until they are retirement age.

"If you are on Social Security, you are on a limited income. If that doesn't get adjusted upward, that can result in a trickle-down effect for local businesses. If they can't grow their income, then they have fewer assets upon which to draw."

The figures cover residents receiving an old age pension, a survivor benefit or a disability check, according to the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In Orangeburg County, 63.5 percent of recipients were retirees in 2009, 15.3 percent were survivors and 21.2 percent were disabled.

Changes to Social Security are being discussed by the Super Committee in Congress, which is looking for ways to balance the larger federal budget.

If benefits are cut, or if the eligibility age is increased, rural counties and small cities could be disproportionately affected.

"In many rural places, Social Security is a very critical element of the local economic base," according to Peter Nelson, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont.

"It's less important to a place like Los Angeles because there is so much additional economic activity going on there," he said in a release.

Declining rural populations could potentially decrease the amount of Social Security benefits introduced to local economies. 2010 U.S. Census figures show people in rural areas account for just 16 percent of the country's total population. In 2000 that figure was over 20 percent.

Bamberg County lost population in 2010, while Orangeburg County experienced a small increase. Calhoun County's population remained statistically unchanged.

The figures came from a joint study funded with a grant from the National Academy of Social Insurance.

Contact the writer: psarata@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5540.

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