The Math Doesn’t Add Up for Social Security

The Math Doesn’t Add Up for Social Security

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) didn't mince words when he laid into leaders who bury their heads in the sand on issues ranging from the Silicon Valley Bank failure to the looming Social Security insolvency:

“As long as the issue is over the horizon, ‘Oh, it’s okay. It’s someone else’s problem – it’s not my problem.’ And then it hits, and it hits hard, and everything crashes.”

The timing was on point, coming soon after the senator criticized President Biden for releasing a budget proposal that doesn’t shore up Social Security and for ghosting bipartisan legislators who requested to meet with him about the issue.

Sen. Cassidy is right – presidents from both parties have paid lip service to protecting Social Security, but neither has a serious plan to make that a reality. That spells bad news for the millions of Americans who will rely on Social Security now and into the future, because like Sen. Cassidy said, the problem with this critical program will hit hard.

The math just doesn’t add up for the Social Security status quo:

  • In 2021, Social Security ran a deficit – spent more than it received – for the first time in 40 years. After another deficit in 2022, the Congressional Budget Office projected Social Security’s trust funds will be bankrupt by 2033. If this happens, Social Security benefits would automatically be cut by 26% for all recipients.
  • The elderly population will continue to grow. In 2000, 35 million people (12.4% of the population) were aged 65 or older; in 2020, it was 54 million people (16.3% of the population). By 2040, when the Baby Boomers are well into retirement, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65 years old.
  • There are fewer new Americans to support the retirees. The birth rate is too low, immigration rates have levelled off, and fewer working-age people are in the work force. As a result, each worker carries a bigger burden: in 1960, there were 5.1 workers per Social Security recipient; in 2022, there were only 2.8.

This spells bad news for millions of current and future retirees, particularly the 9 million Americans who rely on Social Security as their primary source of retirement income. The good news is there are a few bipartisan solutions in the works that could actually put Social Security back on the right path. Sens. Cassidy and Angus King (I-ME) are reportedly working on a proposal that would create an investment fund and eventually use the returns for Social Security. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mitt Romney (R-UT) want to create supercommittees to study Social Security and suggest permanent fixes. Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have supported raising the cap on how much income is subject to the Social Security payroll tax.

The ultimate solution may involve some or all of these, or entirely new proposals. Either way, leaders from both parties must come to the negotiating table before Social Security goes insolvent.