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Academics warn that agency officials are using outdated calculations and have severely overestimated the money available for retirees.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And that outdated mode of forecasting, the professors note, has failed to take into account crucial factors about longevity -- especially the fact that Americans are living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."

More on Money Now

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 2:11PM
Remember is was the Democrat President Johnson that took SS out of a private fund and put it into the gov't's general fund. We will pay the piper sooner than thought. My sons and grandchildren will really pay the price of that move......
Jan 8, 2013 2:11PM
I agree that all federal and state employees should be on SS like everyone else.This would solve the problem and states wouldn't go broke.
Jan 8, 2013 2:09PM
Might want to look at all these slime ball attorney's advertising during the day on television that they can get your social security disability benefits approved. I would guess the only disability that many of these folks suffer from is a fear of looking for work.
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 2:08PM
How about the money the US government borrowed from Social Security and never paid back ???

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 2:00PM

We have been hearing this same old song and dance for years. How many times have they said we will run out of Social Security money. I am getting tired of it. It is also funny how it always seems to get fixed, at least temporarily.


I also like the comment of increasing payroll taxes... Go figure, what the heck just happened? A 2% increase started Jan 1, 2013.


These "professors" should stop trying to cause worry by publishing this type of article and do something constructive with their education.


I wonder if they will try and collect Social Security or wait until 70 to retire. Probably have a fat pension from the universities that "employ" them.

The Lock Box, for SS that Gore proposed, and GWB also promised, does not seem like such a bad idea now.  If you voted GWB, you got what is coming to you, reduced benefits for your SS
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 1:48PM

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 1:42PM
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 1:35PM

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 1:34PM

If you have paid into Social Security, you are entitled to payment when you retire. You are not entitled to a raise every year or so for any reason. That is not how pensions or insurance works. Social Security is meant to keep you out of poverty, not pay for every convenience life has to offer.

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 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 1:29PM
SS going bankrupt and Congress and the Pres decide to cut the SS payroll tax for two years? WTH?
Jan 8, 2013 1:28PM
The Federal Reserve should Q6 Social Security instead of bailing out banks
Jan 8, 2013 1:21PM
What a couple of nuts, not even worth the cyberspace it takes up
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!
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.

Trending NOW

What’s this?


[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market finished an upbeat week on a mixed note. The S&P 500 shed less than a point, ending the week higher by 1.3%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.1%) cemented a 1.7% advance for the week. High-beta names underperformed, which weighed on the Nasdaq Composite (-0.3%) and the Russell 2000 (-1.3%).

Equity indices displayed strength in the early going with the S&P 500 tagging the 2,019 level during the opening 30 minutes of the action. However, ... More