Can Social Security survive?

Despite its flaws and uncertain political future, some people argue it's successfully keeping millions of Americans out of poverty.

By Bruce Kennedy Aug 14, 2013 8:45AM

Senior couple in a garden (© Corbis)Remember the War on Poverty? Next year will be the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's landmark program of antipoverty legislation that brought about the creation of food stamps, Head Start, various job-training projects, urban renewal and the Social Security amendments that created Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.


Late last month, the House of Representative's Committee on the Budget held a hearing called "The War on Poverty: A Progress Report." In an opening statement, committee chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the U.S. has spent more than $15 trillion trying to bring people out of poverty while raising the level of prosperity -- with little to show for it.


While Ryan's figures have been disputed, they've also fueled the ongoing debate about Social Security's future.


Last spring, both sides of the politician spectrum criticized an Obama Administration plan to cut Medicare and Social Security benefits. Some Republicans have attacked Social Security as a failed government entitlement program, which Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry famously called a "Ponzi scheme" in 2011. Earlier this year, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., was quoted in The Hill calling the Obama plan a "shocking attack on seniors."


Thirty years ago, with bipartisan backing, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation aimed at ensuring Social Security's solvency. "This bill demonstrates for all time our nation's ironclad commitment to social security," he said at the time. "It assures the elderly that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half a century ago. It assures those who are still working that they, too, have a pact with the future."


And while the economy may be slowly recovering from a devastating recession, it's the future -- and not the uncertain present -- that worries many Americans. As tax attorney Paula Singer recently pointed out in the Christian Science Monitor, 10,000 Americans are currently reaching retirement age every day, and many of those baby boomers have been investing in Social Security since they entered the work force decades ago. 


While Social Security is far from perfect and it's future is still in doubt, many still swear by it. Just before that House Budget Committee hearing last month, Elise Gould, director of health policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, called Social Security the nation's most effective antipoverty program.


"Without Social Security," she said on the EPI's website, "an additional 8.3% of Americans, or over 25 million more people, would fall below the SPM (Supplemental Poverty Measure) poverty threshold. Refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, kept 2.5%, or nearly 8 million Americans, above the SPM poverty threshold. Other programs such as SNAP (food stamps), unemployment insurance, Supplemental Security Income, and housing subsidies also have a significant impact on the ability of families to stay afloat."


Clearly, a lot is at stake as the battle over Social Security's future gets hotter.


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315Comments
Aug 14, 2013 9:53AM
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Ive worked since I was 8 yrs old.  Now Im 66.  The older Americans have a huge voting block.  Screw with our investment program, stop calling it entitlement scheme, we invested in it for over 50 yrs.  Screw with it and see how fast your **** leaves Congress or the Oval Office.  You think Im kidding?  Try us.  Youre the ones that screwed it up, not us.   Explain to me why America thinks so little of the generation that built this country that the old widow who lives in her trailer court has to decide whether to eat well, heat her home so she doesn't have to wear a blanket around the house, or if she can actually afford her medication.  She cant do all three so something has to suffer.  The generation nowadays who cant get out of bed, keep a drivers license, has no manners, and doesn't even use weed n feed on their fronts lawns, (even though they invested 1/2 million on their home)cares little about us and we feel it.  I say again, don't screw with our retirement.  Many of us lost the remainder of our investments when it was stolen by the rich and the bankers and the greedy and now Soc Sec is all we have and not much more.  You screwed the system up and now you want to screw us again to fix it. Its going to get ugly when 20,000,000 AARP folks end up on the White House lawn. And if you beat us like you did the viet nam desenters in the 60s there will be a lot of dead bodies of old people on the front page of the internet and America will then take its place next chapter in the history books right after Hitler and the Nazis.
Aug 14, 2013 9:51AM
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Total SS contributions by current retirees (and their employers) are totally dependant on the income and years worked. If the contributions are honestly calculated to include principal and interest , then most retirees would  not outlive the benefit they receive. You have to remember  the money contributed SHOULD BE  continuing to draw interest as the person draws their benefit  ; HOWEVER , since the deposit account has been raided , ALL original calculations are no longer valid , but that is not the fault of the retiree ! We paid into it with the expectation that it will be there as promised , so it's up to the government who messed it up to fix it , but not at the expense of those people who are retired or about to.
Aug 14, 2013 10:25AM
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If the Government is not going to continue with Social Security then I want all the money I have contributed out of my paychecks for the last 34 years so I can retire & have some money.  The simple solution to keep SS fluid with money would be to stop Government from raiding  Social Security to fund everything else from Food Stamps to Wars to constantly giving hard earned American dollars Overseas to foreign countries that pretty much hate America. If these steps were followed Social Security would have a SURPLUS!!!!
Aug 14, 2013 10:05AM
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SS is NOT an entitlement program, people worked for decades and paid into it. Why don't they cut the REAL entitlement programs like medicaid, food stamps and welfare. Most of the money from these programs go to illegals who have no intention of working and keep making babies like they were rabbits and generations of lazy, good-for-nothings that expect the government to provide for them from the cradle to the grave. Politicians, leave SS alone, or you'll all find yourselves out of a job.
Aug 14, 2013 10:16AM
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Congress needs to be put in check by term limits and they should be made to be subject to all laws that they pass. Congress should have to retire on Social Security, Medicare and or Obama Care. Congress should not be able to vote themselves pay raises and current pay structure should be amended to discontinue automatic pay raises that are already in place. These entitlements to pay raises and plush retirement for Congress must stop now. When they, Congress, get this mess straightened out, then we will look at the pay structure. As for now they should get a pay cut until they get their act together.

 

Stop placing the fix on the tax payers who paid into the system. Make the Congressional thieves pay back what they have stolen from our heritage. The solution must not be raising our taxes or extending the retirement age.

 

If Congress can not fix this mess that they made, then stop taking the money from us and let us spend it how we choose.

Aug 14, 2013 10:29AM
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If the government pays back all that it has stolen from Social Security, with interest due, Yes it can survive.
Aug 14, 2013 10:20AM
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You guys are missing the real reason Social Security is going kaput! When it originated we had high employment and people had morals. If you were not employed you were look upon like you had leprocy. So SS was a good thing because you had three or four workers supporting a retired worker. Now today its reversed one worker supporting 6 retired workers and 8 disability workers who has bi polar. 6 Drug addicts. 5 Alcholics and 10 baby momma's.
Aug 14, 2013 10:32AM
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The only immediate problem with SS is Congress spent all the money in the SS trust fund and now don't want to pay it back.  For years we have paid in more than was paid out to build a trust to accommodate the baby boomer bubble but thanks to Congress the surplus is gone, spent for Bush's War.  Now there is no way to pay it back without a general tax increase, a reduction in moneys to other programs or a significant reduction in SS benefits.  Congress, you caused the problem.  Now fix it without penalizing us for your arrogant stupidity.
Aug 14, 2013 10:06AM
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Social Security simply needs to be tweaked to accommodate the baby boomers who will pass through. A 1.6 to 2.1% increase in payroll tax will keep SS solvent for the next 75 years, so it will be there for those born today. Not a ponzi scheme at all, as population trends come and go adjustments must be made to any program. Before Social Security 30% of those over 65 lived below the poverty line, today only 8% do. Social Security has been the most successful government program ever, improving the lives of millions and has never added to the deficit.
Aug 14, 2013 11:42AM
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What the hell is wrong with this country? The top 1% of the population is making decisions and controlling what happens to the other 99%. What happened to a government "Of, By and For the people"? Typical greedy politicians are running The United States of America.
Aug 14, 2013 10:16AM
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Social Security maybe a Ponzi scheme but it was started with the notion that the monies collected would be INVESTED not squandered on government give a ways or pork projects. The government instead of investing in private enterprise invested in TREASURY BONDS, JUST LIKE BERNANKE IS DOING NOW AT $84 BILLION A DAY!

A TREASURY BOND IS A PROMISE BY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO PAY BACK INTEREST ON BORROWED MONEY. THE MONEY IS USED TO FINANCE GOVERNMENTS STUPID PORK PROJECTS LIKE BRIDGES TO NOWHERE. IT IS COVERED BY TAXING US. WE WE ARE PAYING TAXES TWICE. ONCE WHEN WE PUT IN SSI TAXES AND AGAIN TO PAY INTEREST FOR BONDS. SEEMS TO ME, WE SHOULD MAKE THE SSI TRUST FUND NOT AVAILABLE FOR FEDERAL USE(THIS WAS THE WAY IT STARTED OUT IN 75 OR MORE YEARS AGO) AND INVEST THE MONEY IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY.

The original intent of Supplemental Security Insurance, SSI, was to SUPPLEMENT retirement savings by the individual, not give them a government retirement. HOW CORRUPT IT HAS BECOME.

If the money that was taken from me by the Federal government for SSI had been invested in the stock market over the 52 years I contributed at a rate of 6%, about what the market yields on an average, I would have one half to one million dollars. THE IDIOTS IN CONGRESS ARE SCREWED US BY PUTTING SSI IN THE GENERAL FUND.

GET RID OF ALL CONGRESS CRITTERS AND GET A NEW BUNCH. TRAIN THESE RIGHT. NO FULL RETIREMENT AFTER 4 YEARS. iF SSI IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR US, IT GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM. NO SWEETHEART MEDICAL FOR THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES, MEDICARE  / MEDICAD IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR US AND THEM. NO $170,000/YR PAY. GIVE THEM THE AVERAGE INCOME OF THE COUNTRY THAT WAY THEY WILL HAVE THE INVENTIVE TO RAISE PEOPLE OUT OF POVERTY BECAUSE THEY WON'T GET MORE UNTIL THEY DO!!!!!
 
Aug 14, 2013 10:08AM
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Social Security CAN NOT survive an Amnesty to Illegal Aliens for sure...

NO AMNESTY OR YOU WILL GET NOTHING COME 65

Aug 14, 2013 11:04AM
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I am 55 now and I would much rather have all my SS holdings returned so I can make my own investment for a very good retirement nest. The U.S. is doing nothing but squandering what we all worked so hard for. I look at the U.S. as a government version of Madoff!! 
Aug 14, 2013 9:53AM
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SS can be fixed very easily: Take the cap off earnings and increase the contribution from 40 quarters to 80 quarters.
Aug 14, 2013 11:09AM
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Maybe Congressman Paul Ryan needs a little more Christian compassion and a little less self-serving political rhetoric.  Like most of my generation I started working & investing in Social Security at a very early age and have continued all of my life.  If Congress screws with our investment then there will be hell to pay.
Aug 14, 2013 10:48AM
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Raising the retirement age is not the answer. Too much is dependent on the type of work the person did. The young believe make people work longer. However physical jobs, many of which are lower paid I might add, make it hard to work past 60 much less 65. Blue collar factory and construction jobs are hard and neither the employee or employer want 70 year olds performing these jobs. Yes jobs in the white collar arena like lawyers, accountants, mid and upper management jobs are less physical and one can work longer, if the mind does not give out.  I speak a bit from experience my parents and brother both work in a factory and I work a desk job. I am in my mid fifties .It would be impossible to have age differences for type of work so I would not increase the minimum age any more that what it is now. (62 will reduced benefits and 67 for people born I think after 1959.
Aug 14, 2013 11:35AM
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No, it can't. We've got too many people taking money out of it. Our government to balance the budget, or fund something or the other. They to date haven't paid it back.  I feel that if you've worked, then you should receive it.  But SSI recipients' are receiving monthly income from it, disabled people, when they aren't disabled, dependent spouses (people married numerous times, well that one person's income doesn't support 3 wives on SSA, dependent coverage. YOU work, you draw from it.  YOU don't work, you live by your wits!  Pay back what's been taken out of it.  That is why so many illegals are entering our country. We have so many programs out there to help people and they are using them to the fullest. Fraud is rampant and no one is checking the fraud out and when they catch someone, millions have gone out and there is no recoupment. 
Aug 14, 2013 10:14AM
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Fixing SS is simple: Remove the upper limit of $107k that gets taxed.  90% of the shortfall GOES AWAY INSTANTLY if we stop trying to give more to the rich.

Of course, this is a political non-starter, so instead, the people who actually need it will get their benefits slashed instead.
Aug 14, 2013 11:47AM
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Fred is a little overdramatic, but he hits the main point about the promise made to him during the 50 years of his contributions.  Those of us essentially paying for him now can't just say "he's on his own and we don't want to do it."  Especially since, he paid for the generation prior to his.  That's the bargain and that's the arrangement.  Until it changes and a realistic transition plan is in place, we have to abide by that responsibility.

 

I'm just surprised the seniors haven't already marched on D.C. with pitchforks and torches in hand.

Aug 14, 2013 10:04AM
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Social Security can survive, but we have congress people who don't care.  Tea Party Republicans are the worst; "NO NEW TAXES," regardless of cost.  Keep in mind that Ronald Reagan RAISED the FICA tax in the mid-seventies to help keep the program solvent.  It needs to cover 90% of wages (currently at only 84%) which means the cap is much too low.  Nearly 60% of Americans think the cap need to be raised or eliminated.  Nearly 75% of Americans think another 1% FICA tax, split between employees and employers is o.k.  If we were to implement both, we would add over 30 years to SS solvency (out to approx 2065).
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