Other factors can have an impact on the numbers. In the early 2000s, the bump in beneficiaries was likely tied to the Senior Citizens’ Freedom to Work Act signed into law in April 2000, according to Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at the New School for Social Research in New York. The law reduced penalties for beneficiaries who continued to work. The monthly data show 300,000 people claiming Social Security in May 2000.
The pandemic created a unique situation in 2020. While surveys show that many are retiring or planning to retire earlier than they once thought, deaths are removing hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries from Social Security rolls.
U.S. life expectancy plunged by a full year in the first half of 2020, the biggest drop since World War II, to 77.8 years from 78.8 in 2019, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics.