Did the government make a Social Security goof?

Academics warn that agency officials are using outdated calculations and have severely overestimated the money available for retirees.

By Bruce Kennedy Jan 8, 2013 12:32PM

Image: Social Security Card (Comstock)The fiscal cliff has been averted for the moment, and Congress is continuing its latest game of financial chicken with a new target in sight: the upcoming debt ceiling. But two academics say all this political brawling is taking attention away from another crisis looming on the nation's horizon: Social Security.

Samir Soneji is a demographer and professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and Gary King is a professor of government at Harvard. On Sunday, the two boiled down their recent findings in an opinion piece for the New York Times.

According to King and Soneji, the Social Security Administration has grossly underestimated the money it needs for retiring Americans "to the tune of $800 billion by 2031, more than the current annual defense budget."

And if nothing is done, they say, the Social Security trust fund will run out two years ahead of current government predictions.

The professors say two major issues have led to these serious miscalculations.

The government’s forecasting methods for Social Security have barely changed since the program’s creation during the Great Depression -- "even as a revolution in big data and statistics has transformed everything from baseball to retailing."

And that outdated mode of forecasting, the professors note, has failed to take into account crucial factors about longevity -- especially the fact that Americans are living longer and healthier lives. Better treatment of cardiovascular diseases and a dramatic decline in smoking, they say, "are adding years of life that the government hasn’t accounted for."

The professors believe the nation faces some stark choices if Social Security is to be saved. Among the options they suggest are raising the retirement age to as high as 69 or 70, increasing payroll taxes, limiting annual cost-of-living adjustments and reducing benefits.

They also point to new research that suggests that retirement, while popular, may in itself reduce a person’s life span "by breaking lifelong routines and disrupting deep social connections." And with that research in mind, they wonder if retirement should be optional.

Given modern demographics and statistical analysis, professors Soneji and King think now is a great time to open a public debate about Social Security’s future. The constant political bickering in Congress may make this suggestion seem odd, they say -- but "the longer we ignore the problem," they warn, "the more disruptive any change will need to be to keep Social Security alive."

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Jan 8, 2013 1:17PM
Move all Gov't Pensions into SS and make them live off SS like everyone else and pay SS taxes like everyone else - and delete people who never paid in - Problem solved and some excess to boot!
Jan 8, 2013 2:11PM

What the hell is wrong with the American public???  The federal govt. is scaring people for no reason other than to run a smoke screen with regard to Social Security!

Social Security is a       SELF   FUNDED  PROGRAM     which means that it receives NO money from the federal budget-------------- EXCEPT----------- that the govt. has been   "borrowing"     the surplus    (yearly) for the last 10 to 20 years and its now time to  repay Social Security and the federal govt. has NO money return the money they borrowed!!!!!

WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!   Get off your dead and lazy asses and participate in your democracy!!!!!!!!!!!     This attitude in this country now of----me----me---me    and screw everyone else has to S T O P.

Jan 8, 2013 2:08PM
How about the money the US government borrowed from Social Security and never paid back ???
Jan 8, 2013 1:35PM

Of course this all started when the government spent our social security money on other things and wrote IOUs to the American people for the last 20 years. Don't worry though, we can just print more money or make $1 trillion dollar coins and count it against the social security deficit. Of course those politicians are no longer in office and are collecting government pensions we pay for. What do they care now?

 Meanwhile the young people continue voting for spending money without any accountability. Wait until they get old, they can use the American money to burn in trash cans to keep warm.

Jan 8, 2013 2:15PM
Raising the age to 69 or 70?  Hell's bells, you can't get a job after 50!  In order to save Social Security, they need to stop doling it out to people who never paid in and to kids.  What is it with giving Social Security disability to kids because they have ADHD - they are NOT breadwinners. People coming here from foreign countries are collecting Social Security -in fact there are lawyers who fly them in from Russia on planes and sign them up to collect even before the plane lands.  I know this thru my sister, a former govt. employee.  If you eliminate just those two - kids and non-paying elderly foreigners, the problems would probably be solved.  
Jan 8, 2013 2:14PM

how about if you nevere paid in you can not ever get anything out

stop the free loaders and abusers of the system

people on diswability for any reason that never pay in is wrong


Jan 8, 2013 2:08PM
Go to SS office,You'll see more young people there("disabled") then the ones of retiring age that paid in for 45 years
Jan 8, 2013 1:29PM
SS going bankrupt and Congress and the Pres decide to cut the SS payroll tax for two years? WTH?

You all realize that before 1984(7) ??  that S.S. funds were used to pay for things like the trip to the moon and the Vietnam and Korean wars. And that S.S. is owed like $10 trillion from these monies that were stolen from it.


But nobody is bring suit against the government for having spent the money on non S.S. issues.


it's just bs that S.S. is going to run out of money If some lawyer would go after this lost S.S. money he could make abotu $1 trillion dollars in a 10 percent recovery fee and S.S. would get a boost of $9 trillion dollars


instead we get this BS that working until you die adds years to your life.


next they will be saying since S.S. retires can not buy enough food to live on that is a good thing as studies have shown that stravation diets make people live 20 percent longer.


I quess that there will be a new study saying that getting back to nature e.g. living on the streets out in the open and forging through dumpsters for food and no medical care increases both the quality and longevity of someone's live.


that making over $1,000 a year and living the life of Riley and getting enough food and having a car and a 5,000 square foot home and health care decreases your quality of life in half and reduces your life span by at least 40 years

Jan 8, 2013 1:28PM
The Federal Reserve should Q6 Social Security instead of bailing out banks
Jan 8, 2013 1:00PM
Social Security is a hot button issue that no one wants to talk about.  I think SS should be on the top of the agenda, it involves every American.  Does SS need reform, absolutely!  Let's talk about it, come up with a plan, and implement it before it becomes an emergency like everything in the Obama White House.  AARP should stay out of it too.  Just saying.....
Jan 8, 2013 1:49PM
The good professors conclusions are very misleading. The fact is, we collectively aren't living that longer. Sure, there are increasing numbers of the super old, but their numbers are more than balanced out by those dying relatively young due to diabetes, stroke, heart disease, etc...It will unfair and cruel to raise retirement ages to 69 or 70. For a variety of reasons - many workers simply can no longer work at that age due to infirmity, jobs will not be available for those willing and able to work in their later years, and who is going to babysit the grand kids??
Jan 8, 2013 1:42PM
Why does seem it that everyone who is talking about cutting, reducing, or extending working years for SS are people who probably don't need SS to retire. No real proof but just saying!
Jan 8, 2013 1:30PM
Lesson to everyone, don't count on anyone but yourself for your well being.  Live within your means and save for your retirement.  The biggest problem is the number of people counting on it right now, if it weren't for that, I'd say cut the program, let the people working now keep the money and invest it themselves for retirement.
Jan 8, 2013 2:36PM

I want to retire!!!

Take the money from the polititians now. All - past & present.

No retirement for them, they are all wealthy anyway.

No lifelong health benefits, let them Obamacare!

Cut their salaries and limit terms.

Serving the people should be an honor, not a lifelong career of screwing the taxpayers.

Jan 8, 2013 2:13PM
Ohh yea!  Way to go MESSNBC.  Your political censorship during the election made sure to praise the Court Jester Biden in his debate with a serious statesman, Paul Ryan, even as Mr.  Ryan tried to impress upon the American people the serious trouble SS is in, and he offered a plan to fix it.  Of course, MS=NBC wasn't impressed.  Now that you have your guys re-elected it suddenly has dawned on you that there is a.............................serious problem.  Duh.  Go ask the joker Biden how to fix it.
Jan 8, 2013 1:48PM

The Social Security Abuse along with the head buried in the sand mentality are starting to surface.


They estimate that in the year 2031 they will have a 800 billion dollar deficit.    That figure is most likely light, in 2031 it most likely will be over a trillion short.


Options include more  SS/tax via: raise wage base ceiling limit from  $113,000 to unlimited!!!!!! and  include bonuses and perks

Jan 8, 2013 1:31PM

Here's one of their options from the NY Times article: "A fourth is to reduce benefits — for example, by lowering the initial benefits for workers whose lifetime wages are above the national average (currently $43,000 a year)."


Make more money and get less benefits ?  Anyone else confused by this option ?

Jan 8, 2013 2:52PM

This article is complete BS. I guess they think we’re stupid. The truth is: The Federal Government has used our Social Security Funds for things other than Social Security. The Baby-Boomer generation of Americans has paid into the SocSec Trust Fund for 30-40 years and our employers have matched it too. Until 2012 this amounted to the tune of 12.4 percent of every paycheck. If these collections were saved and compounded at 5-6 percent, there would more than enough funds available.


Our money was, and continues to be, stolen from the Social Security Trust Fund. It’s the thievery and spending stupid!

Jan 8, 2013 2:31PM
i'm 64 retired due to being laid off. i would love to work. but thanks to the govts. failed programs like nafta, gat, cafta that sent all the jobs packing, there are few if any employers that will hire me. what's a person to do? it's easy to tell us to continue to work, but due to their dereliction of duty to the american citizen, there are no jobs left.
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