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<<my understanding from asking the same basic question of SS myself is that they actually base it on the highest 30 years worth of income. >>

It's actually 35 years. SS drops the 5 lowest years of earnings from your 40 highest earnings years. If you don't have 40 years of earnings, the 5 low years will be "zero" years. This is done after the earnings are "indexed" or brought up to closer to today's dollar values.

So, if you only work part time or are making minimum wage, your SS benefits will actually increase if you have less than 35 years of earnings. SS uses zero years to fill in if you don't have 35 years of earnings. So each year you have ANY earnings and it replaces a zero year, SS benefits should increase tho probably in VERY small increments.
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