Senior Finances: Social Security Baloney

Feb 18th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Finances

Seniors, our financial security is once again at risk, and we need to understand the issues. 

A former trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund weighs in on the Social Security solvency issue. ”Saving” Social Security is a fear-mongering attempt to convince us seniors that there is a problem with our major lifeline.   In a word, the trustee says it’s all Baloney. 

One presidential hopeful said this week that in order to ‘save’ Social Security, the retirement age should be raised.  Some recently elected congressmen and women insist Social Security is one of the biggest entitlements we have, and it has to be cut to reduce the budget.

Robert Reich, writer, professor and economist, as well as former Trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund, says, “Baloney.”  Reich wrote on his webblog this week:

“Social Security isn’t responsible for the federal deficit. Just the opposite. Until last year Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. It lent the surpluses to the rest of the government.

“Now that Social Security has started to pay out more than it takes in, Social Security can simply collect what the rest of the government owes it. This will keep it fully solvent for the next 26 years.

“But why should there even be a problem 26 years from now? Back in 1983, Alan Greenspan’s Social Security commission was supposed to have fixed the system for good – by gradually increasing payroll taxes and raising the retirement age. (Early boomers like me can start collecting full benefits at age 66; late boomers born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67.)

“Greenspan’s commission must have failed to predict something. But what? It fairly accurately predicted how quickly the boomers would age. It had a pretty good idea of how fast the US economy would grow. While it underestimated how many immigrants would be coming into the United States, that’s no problem. To the contrary, most new immigrants are young and their payroll-tax contributions will far exceed what they draw from Social Security for decades.

“So what did Greenspan’s commission fail to see coming?

“Inequality.

“Remember, the Social Security payroll tax applies only to earnings up to a certain ceiling. (That ceiling is now $106,800.) The ceiling rises every year according to a formula roughly matching inflation.

“Back in 1983, the ceiling was set so the Social Security payroll tax would hit 90 percent of all wages covered by Social Security. That 90 percent figure was built into the Greenspan Commission’s fixes. The Commission assumed that, as the ceiling rose with inflation, the Social Security payroll tax would continue to hit 90 percent of total income.

“Today, though, the Social Security payroll tax hits only about 84 percent of total income.


“It went from 90 percent to 84 percent because a larger and larger portion of total income has gone to the top. In 1983, the richest 1 percent of Americans got 11.6 percent of total income. Today the top 1 percent takes in more than 20 percent.

“If we want to go back to 90 percent, the ceiling on income subject to the Social Security tax would need to be raised to $180,000.

“Presto. Social Security’s long-term (beyond 26 years from now) problem would be solved.

“So there’s no reason even to consider reducing Social Security benefits or raising the age of eligibility. The logical response to the increasing concentration of income at the top is simply to raise the ceiling.”

This is an easy ‘fix’ to the issues being raised about Social Security.  A no-brainer.  Maybe we should all call our congresswomen and men… again.




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