Daily Editors' Notes

What about Social Security for the rest of us?

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

It's an established fact that Social Security will be kaput by the time we need it, right?

After all, prevailing wisdom holds that our government is already going through stockpiled funds to pay for the program. Can there be any doubt that the cupboard will be bare by the time baby boomers and others try to tap in?

Well as it turns out, things may not be as bad as many of us have led ourselves to believe.

Yes, the Social Security system needs to have some work done. Probably along the lines of the facelift it received in 1983. That noted, the program is hardly ready for its deathbed.

According to the most recent report from the trustees who oversee the fund, the Social Security system will be able to pay its bills for the next four decades. A separate analysis by the Congressional Budget Office draws a similar conclusion.

Yes, some of the funds that will be paid to soon-retiring boomers will have to come from future payments by the Gen X and Gen Y crowd. But most of the needed money is accounted for.

In fact, even if no changes are made to Social Security until 2078, the trustees estimate that the amount of money going into the fund would pay 73 cents of every dollar of projected payouts by that year.

The trustees added that that future shortfall could be made up by either cutting some benefits (ask people to retire a few years later?) or by a slight tax increase. How slight? When the fund was off the track in the early 1980s, the Reagan administration and Congress raised the amount paid by employers and workers from 5.4% each in 1983 to the current 6.2%.

Well then, Mr. Smarty-pants, why are we hearing so much from people who want to get government out of the business of managing Social Security? It turns out that what a lot of the people seeking reform really want is to avoid more taxes. That's certainly an understandable sentiment. But it's hardly proof that the roof is about to cave in.

Of course, it can be argued that privatization has been happening for nearly four decades. Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The measure put the first tax-deferred Individual Retirement Accounts in place. Those plans, and their cousins, employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts, appear to be working reasonably well. Americans have put an estimated $1.9 trillion in 401(k) plans. But there is a big difference. ERISA doesn't force people to save for the future, while Uncle Sam does.

Given our nation's general preference for credit cards over savings deposit slips, requiring people to set aside some money for the future might not be such a bad idea.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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