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Contact: By Rep. John Boehner

Ask Boehner: The “Notch Victims” Myth

Oct 31, 2008


I occasionally use this column to answer questions from 8th District constituents.  You may submit questions to askboehner@mail.house.gov.  My office is available to help constituents and you will find contact information at the end of this column.

I recently got a phone call asking me to give money to fight for “Notch Victims.”  What is a “notch victim” and should I be giving money to help them?

The myth of the “notch victims” has been circulating for quite a while, and I’m glad to provide you some information about this.  Here’s the myth:  35 years ago, Congress erred and inadvertently lowered Social Security benefits for those born between 1917 and 1926 by as much as $200 per person.  Because the government is too cheap to correct this problem, the myth continues, the government is waiting for these so-called “notch” babies to pass away.

This myth has been continued by unscrupulous fundraising companies that use scary mailers and phone calls to trick people into believing that this “myth” is true.  Here’s what did happen:

In the early 1970s, the Democratic-run Congress adjusted Social Security’s annual cost-of-living increase with disastrous results.  Benefits rose too quickly, and the Social Security program was quickly headed for bankruptcy.  In 1977, Congress again adjusted the formula to a more sustainable yet lower-benefit level.  Retirees who unexpectedly received a generous windfall due to the tinkering and re-tinkering of the cost-of-living formulas were allowed to keep the money, instead of paying back the government for a government-created mistake.  Individuals who had not reached retirement age by the time Congress fixed this problem received benefits based on the new, lower formula.  To ease the transition to the new formulas, Congress allowed for some extra Social Security dollars to those born between 1917 and 1921.

Other than unscrupulous companies looking to make a buck, there is one thing that keeps the “notch victims” myth alive:  Your Social Security benefits are based on the wages you earned while working.  Because wages tend to increase over the years, so, too, do the benefits distributed to each retiring birth year.  Every retiree no doubt knows another retiree whose retirement benefit is just a little higher than their own; again, because this benefit is based on the wages you earned during your lifetime and the formula that provides a different base amount for each birth year.

Here’s a good analogy that is used by AARP to explain this:  Suppose you are in line to make a withdrawal at an ATM.  The two people in front of you each withdrawal $20 but actually receive $40; you, though, make a withdrawal of $20 and receive $20.  Is it an injustice that you received exactly what you should have?  No, it’s not.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, the so-called “notch victims” aren’t being neglected – nor are they receiving unfair Social Security benefits.  It’s reprehensible that groups would use scare tactics to frighten people into giving money for a cause that is actually based on a myth.

If you are an 8th District resident and have questions about this issue – or other issues with the federal government – please contact my office toll-free, 1-800-582-1001.

Boehner represents Ohio’s 8th District, which includes all of Darke, Miami and Preble counties, most of Butler and Mercer counties, and the northeastern corner of Montgomery County.  He was first elected to Congress in 1990.


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