Friday marked the 80th birthday of Social Security, a government program signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. Though it has been amended a number of times since its birth, it has always worked by using tax dollars to create a fund that contributes to older Americans’ retirement security—with the hope that that the fund will also be available to today’s young Americans as well someday.
On its 80th birthday, let’s debunk one of the common myths surrounding Social Security, the idea that there’s no crisis on the horizon for this program.
Some politicians in Washington would rather deny that there is problem than confront the challenges that face us through this program. Earlier this year, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said that conservatives are “inventing a Social Security crisis,” and others in Congress have said similar things.
Are these assertions really true? The evidence indicates that they are not.
According to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, since 2010, the program has been paying out more in benefits than it receives in tax revenue. Just last year, Social Security ran a $73 billion deficit. And over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office predicts deficits of up to $2 trillion. These are scary numbers that could hurt the most vulnerable in our society.
Social Security faces a growing shortfall in the coming years: baby boomers are retiring at astonishing rates, Americans are living longer, and our generation has a job crisis that will fail to produce enough tax revenue to sustain these large numbers.
The longer we wait to address this problem, the worse it will get. Some politicians claim that Social Security reform will hurt the poor. But most, if not all, credible reform plans wouldn’t cut any benefits for lower-income people. Actually, under current law, if we don’t reform this program as soon as possible, a 20 percent-plus benefit cut could be necessary in the future, and that would have a negative impact on everyone.
Eighty years ago, the Social Security Act was passed to give “some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.” Let’s preserve this purpose by confronting the problems we’re facing today.
The only narratives being “invented” in Washington are more excuses to kick the can down the road. Social Security has reached its 80th birthday. Will it make it to 100?