Social Security doesn’t mean the same thing to every state.

In some states, Social Security payments are a large portion of total personal income. In others, it is tiny. And the proportions change depending on whether you live in an urban or a rural county.

The map above shows the percent of personal income that comes from Social Security in the rural parts of every state. The dark red states have rural areas that are most dependent on Social Security checks. In the rural portions of these states, Social Security payments make up more than ten percent of total personal income.

In the dark blue states, Social Security payments in rural counties average less than 7.8% of total person income.

In rural Michigan, Social Security payments make up 12.7 percent of total personal income. In rural Massachusetts, it’s 4.2 percent.

Social Security is a national program and the rules for benefits don’t change from state to state. But because residents in states differ, so does the local impact of Social Security.

In West Virginia, 24 percent of the total population receives a monthly check from Social Security. In Washington, D.C. — where decisions are made about this program — only 12 percent of the population are Social Security recipients.

The congressional “super committee” charged with cutting $1.2 trillion out of the federal deficit over the next ten years is eyeing a change in the way Social Security payments are figured. If the federal government just changed the way it calculates the rate of inflation, Social Security payments could be reduced by $112 billion.

Cuts won’t be felt equally across the country, however. They won’t even be felt equally within states.

The map below shows the same distribution of Social Security payments, except that it highlights urban counties in each state. Dark red states have the highest percentages of personal income coming from Social Security. Dark blue states have the lowest rates of urban personal income coming from Social Security.


In urban counties of West Virginia, 8.6 percent of personal income is derived from Social Security. In Alaska’s urban counties, just 2.8 percent comes from the program.

Every state and every county tells a different story. (You can get all the information at this web address.) We’ve prepared four charts that help to show the distribution of Social Security among the states. The first compares the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The next covers the rural counties in each state. Another has the urban counties. And a fourth shows counties with small cities, up to 50,000 people.

The charts report two pieces of information. First, they tell the percent of total personal income coming from Social Security in each state. Next, the chart tells the percent of people who receive some kind of Social Security check.

The United States average is on the top line.

Finally, the charts show how each state ranks on these measures. Top-ranked states have the largest proportion of income or recipients. If your state is ranked #1, it has either the largest proportion of personal income coming from Social Security or the largest percentage of recipients receiving checks from the program.

The first chart, below, is for the all counties in each state. (Note that some states don’t have any rural population.)


This is the comparison of the rural parts of each state.


Here is a comparison of the urban counties in each state.


And, finally, here is a comparison of the counties with small cities in each state.


Bill Bishop is co-editor of the Deesmealz and Roberto Gallardo is a research associate at the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University.

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