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Academics warn that agency officials are using outdated calculations and have severely overestimated the money available for retirees.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And that outdated mode of forecasting, the professors note, has failed to take into account crucial factors about longevity -- especially the fact that Americans are living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 9, 2013 12:41PM

I've been saying this for months now... Social Security is all but bankrupt people.  Forget ss savings, time for PERSONAL savings!!  Buy a good safe, and start packing it with YOUR OWN MONEY!!!  It's a safe bet that by the time we 40 and 50 yo's get to retirement age (if we do), that the ss bank will be full of IOU's.   Remember that the Dems AND Rep's that control OUR ss money also have managed (with Noblaba's and W's help) to drain this savings plan to the point that dust now lines the vault's floor.  Do NOT trust the gov't with YOUR money and retirement, save on your OWN!!


Just saying...




A dis-satisfied customer and voter...

Jan 9, 2013 12:37PM
If the government left the trillions of dollars in it and didn't start putting their hand in the cookie jar when ever they needed cash the jar wouldn't be empty today. I have read there was 2.6 trillion in there when they started taking it out to pay bills elsewhere. They moved the money to a general fund and had good time spending it. I am sick of hearing about the situation today. What would 2.6 trillion look like today if it was still in that trust. Hmmmmm.
Jan 9, 2013 12:35PM

The biggest joke is there is no longer a Social Security "FUND"  The government has long since raped the actual fund empty.  There is no magic bank account with billions of dollars in it.  The social security fund is virtual, it only exists within the column of a ledger that states this much money has been paid in, and this much money has been paid out.  The money, that was actually in an account at one time was used by the government for other purposes, so today, social security is simply a tax or bond the government takes from working people, with a half hearted promise to pay something back one day.  But should the day come that the government decides to change the program, there is no giant cash of money to give back. 


Its merely a tax used to put money where ever they (the government) feels it should go. 

Jan 9, 2013 12:24PM
Why is it that social security is always put on the table what they need to put on the table is job creation. The more people working the more money will be going into the fund. If they would keep thier grubby little fingers off of it maybe there would be some money left.
Jan 9, 2013 12:10PM
Baby boomers are dying off right and left every day, by the hundreds, thousands maybe millions.. When this big bubble passes thru isn't this going to present some relief to all the over-stretched programs
Jan 9, 2013 12:10PM

Congress and Senate and everyone who makes these calculations should also be on social security and medicare they also should have no retirment form the taxpayer. They never talk about what they have because they are the eliite.

Jan 9, 2013 12:00PM
Hey I thought the government caused mortgage crisis was going to keep the baby boomers from retiring and take care of this , what happened?
Jan 9, 2013 11:57AM
for all that are gripeing about social security run by the government and completely screwed  it  up, keep in mind that the program was originally strictly volentary, then permanent, then higher and higher rates, to add disabled , unwed , etc.,etc., complete mess right?/  Now lets  have government change laws ,ammend the constitution , what ever is necessary to take guns out of the picture to stop crime. Really people ! Do you have a brain? Maybe you need to check the other countries that have done just this and see how it has turned out for them .In every case crimes are up , and the people who participated in these countries control programs have no means to defend themselves or their property.....I bet the communist and muslim countries leaders are grinning from ear to ear thinking about how stupid the people of the united states have become!!!
Jan 9, 2013 11:48AM
Now that this administration has divided this nation into demographics, races, etc...it would be interesting to see the percentages of people receiving disability are in those demographics. Just saying, these numbers are used in political agendas why not take a look at the "takers" to see if there is a pattern there. Might uncover some abuse if you know what I mean.
Jan 9, 2013 11:44AM

So in other words it's just another confirmation that Obama and the Democrats are feeding us lies.


In the sad, but true department: Social security funding is better off than Illinois pension system which is rapidly approaching a $100 million shortfall and that is just one state.

Jan 9, 2013 11:43AM
The problem is the GOP won't be satisfied untill SS and medicare don't exist. They want to put everything into the private sector. The biggest problem is Congress- their retirement is as much as the President's and they do half the work. The speaker will get 224K a year in retirement and congressman get 180K a yr. FOR DOING NOTHING. You want to change things America - Work to change Congress benefits. Should be the same as ours. Now that would be real change and we would never have to worry about SS and Medicare again. I am 71 -Vietnam Vet - college grad. Great job.  Had nice 401 program. Bush change my retirement plans. You never know what will happen, that is why all people need SS and medicare because of  the unknown. 
Jan 9, 2013 11:33AM
Obamacare will solve the SS financial concerns.
Jan 9, 2013 11:31AM
In my lifetime 62 years this is the most divided and weakest i have ever seen this country as a result of the division, bar none wars,depression,cold war . give corporations more power. ie corporations are people. Shame on the supreme court.  "divide and conquer"
Jan 9, 2013 11:27AM

When are you people going to wake up and finally figure out that this government is not your friend and never will be they're not out there to make life easier for you there only out there to make it easier for them what he think you got national healthcare for so they could control the masses what you think the still from Social Security so they control the masses control is the answer because without it they wouldn't have a job that's why Social Security is in such dire need is it is is a Ponzi scheme that's legal and nothing you can do about it so you models go talk that wall you're looking at right now overtop are your computer screen it will probably listen to you more than any government official well

I'm just tell you the truth I know you won't believe it because you almost of you liberals out there believe that the government is out there to help you it's not in a never will be it's fair to keep you under control that's all it's therefore you see these liberals honestly believe that you can't do anything without them you were too stupid and to dump to live your lives without that without their input you don't have the brains to do that that's their beliefs and there's nothing you can do to change it there's nothing I can say to change but if you think more government is the answer by all means put them in charge you regret it later but liberals have to be shown to actually believe thank you very much from all of your valuable time have a good day

Jan 9, 2013 11:25AM

just keep giving it to all the illegals in this country.

all the poor lazing no good "disabilities" in this country.

and then one wonders why it will run out of money!!!!!



Jan 9, 2013 11:23AM
Jan 9, 2013 11:21AM
Jan 9, 2013 11:13AM
All of this sounds more like a communist country's struggle for power
Jan 9, 2013 11:10AM

"They also point to new research that suggests that retirement, while popular, may in itself reduce a person’s life span"


This statement suggests that they're trying to have it both ways.  Supposedly, because people are living longer they want to raise the retirement age, and yet retiring shortens your life!


So let's see, work until 75 and live to 95, or retire at 65 and live until 85.


I'll take the latter.

So, simply raise the cap on social security from the current approximately $110,000 to $250,000.  Problem solved.
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 climbed out of the gate with the industrial sector (+0.6%) setting the pace. Looking below the surface, transport stocks are largely responsible for the early outperformance following better than expected results from FedEx (FDX 160.46, +5.80). The logistics company has added 3.9%, while the broader Dow Jones Transportation Average trades up 1.3% with all but one component showing gains. Shipper Matson (MATX 27.36, -0.03) is the lone decliner, down ... More