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The average combined benefit for a retired couple is $1,994 per month, Lucey says. That may not seem like much. But if they were to buy an annuity that paid a similar benefit — also adjusted for inflation — over 20 years, the cost would be $485,000, Lucey says.
And Social Security isn't just for retirees.
It provides benefits for young workers who are disabled or who die and leave behind a family, says Nancy Altman, co-director of the advocacy group Social Security Works.
For a 30-year-old earning $30,000 a year with a spouse and two young kids, Social Security is like having $465,000 in disability insurance and more than $475,000 in life insurance, she says.
"For most Americans, their largest asset is Social Security," Altman says.