Did the Social Security crisis just go away ?

A couple of years ago, the hot socio-economic topic was the projected insolvency of Social Security. 

Remember how Al Gore wanted a “lock box” to insulate FICA contributions from Congressional money grabbers?  Or, how Bush wanted to privatize Social Security so folks could earn higher returns?

Now, pundits (e.g. Robert Reich, Larry Lindsay) are calling for payroll tax holidays.

President Obama is bound and determined to give payroll tax rebates to low income folks who don’t pay income taxes.  That is, to reduce their Social Security contributions … by about $135 billion annually.

Does that mean that Social Security has miraculously found strong financial footing?

Hardly.

Social Security is a trust fund (currently over $2 trillion).  Workers make contributions to the trust and draw benefits from it when they retire or become disabled.  In concept, the contributed inflows and trust earnings (i.e. interest) are supposed to cover the benefit outflows. (Think Ponzi and Bernie Madoff … see excerpted article “Social Security: National Ponzi Scheme ” below)

Currently, about $785 billion in Social Security taxes are collected annually  from about 163 million workers and $585 billion in benefit checks are sent out  to 50 million Social Security recipients.

Well, according to the Social Security trustees, because of demographic shifts (i.e. more retirees, fewer workers), outflows will exceed inflows somewhere around 2020 — a little earlier if interest on the trust isn’t counted, a little later if it is.  And, they project that the trust fund will be completely exhausted by around 2040.

With t-bill rates now hovering slightly over zero, earnings on the Social Security trust must be minimal (and less than considered in the projections).

So, if the Feds cut contribution inflows to the trust by over $100 billion annually, won’t Social Security be in a world of hurt — sooner rather than later?

I haven’t heard any of Obama’s smart guys in the room talking about this part of the problem … and it’s a big part !

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Excerpted from IBD, “Social Security: National Ponzi Scheme”, Williams, February 02, 2009

Congress collects about $785 billion in Social Security taxes from about 163 million workers to send out $585 billion to 50 million Social Security recipients.

Social Security’s trustees tell us that the surplus goes into a $2.2 trillion trust fund to meet future obligations.

The problem is that whatever the difference between Social Security taxes taken in and benefits paid out, Congress spends it.

What the Treasury Department does is give the Social Security Trust Fund non-marketable “special issue government securities” that are simply bookkeeping entries that are IOUs.

According to Social Security trustee estimates, around 2016 the amount of Social Security benefits paid will exceed taxes collected.

That means one of two things, or both, must happen: Congress will raise taxes and/or slash promised Social Security benefits.

Each year the situation will get worse since the number of retirees is predicted to increase relative to the number in the work force paying taxes.

In 1940, there were 42 workers per retiree, in 1950 there were 16, today there are three and in 20 or 30 years there will be two or fewer workers per retiree.

Full article:
http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=318470763456742

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