At 77, Social Security confronts its own mortality

We have technologies to help us celebrate the program, but we still have to reinvent the way we think about aging.

By The Fiscal Times Aug 20, 2012 1:37PM
By Michael HodinThe Fiscal Times

How odd it is that we have technologies in this current century to help us celebrate the policies of Social Security (which turns 77 next week) and Medicare (which just turned 47), both formed in an earlier century. We have birthday cakes on Facebook pages and tweets from all quarters about both of these entitlement institutions.

And how interesting it is, too, that topics normally left to policy wonks inside the Beltway or among academics from Cambridge to Palo Alto have made their way into social media. Or that we are now being invited to take to the streets by the Alliance for Retired Americans in their summer campaign with the slogan, "Let’s Not Be the Last Generation to Retire." The group's goal seems to be to amass signatures on a petition calling for America to keep Social Security and Medicare far into the future. Not exactly the inspiration of the good old American work ethic and our understanding of virtue. And not anywhere in the vicinity of our current demographic realities which, as we live well into our 80s, hardly square with outdated ideas of retirement.

Yet the same crowd that so easily adopts this century’s newest communications technology is hopelessly stuck on ideas and institutions that were invented in – and for – an earlier time. And they are not alone, as was so clearly revealed in the groundbreaking AEGON Retirement Readiness Survey, which questioned 9,000 people across eight European countries and the U.S. who believe they’re worse off today and fear they will not be able to retire in 20th century style.

As we dramatically reduce birthrates across the globe, where there will soon be more of us over age 60 than under 14, it is the reverse that must begin to animate our thinking: What does a working life look like in the 21st century when there are two decades beyond 20th century traditional retirement age?

The campaign for retirement is not only peculiar in light of our longevity – how many people really want to play golf or garden for twenty years or more? Living for decades without an active income is also fiscally unsustainable in light of the dramatic demographic shift of what would be "working to retirement."

Sure, the Social Security and Medicare programs worked when they were invented. But even the vaunted UK National Health Scheme on which U.S. Medicare was modeled is unable to meet the demands of an aging population. And that’s against basic reforms year after year, including a change to the once-uncontested principle that you were either "in" or "out." Today, if you don’t like the health care you’re getting and can afford something on the outside, it’s OK.

In the hotly contested presidential campaign, there’s been barely a word from either of the candidates about these entitlement celebrations. Only in newly minted socialist France does there seem to be any public display of keeping 20th century retirement, but the confiscatory taxes that follow underscore the disconnect. Surely the demographic realities of our 21st century demand something more than retread 20th century policies.

Some may not want us to be the "last generation to retire," but the generations of the 21st century know they must reimagine and reinvent how they will live in their century.

Michael Hodin is a contributor at The Fiscal Times. Subscribe to The Fiscal Times' free newsletter.

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Aug 20, 2012 3:37PM
I've always figured Social Security as a good program. I do believe Social Security Disability needs to be done away with, to many people abuse it and that is what welfare is for. I've also wondered what happens to all the money paid in that those who pass on never draw. I've known many who have passed away in their later years before they even reach the age to retire, up into their late 50's.
Aug 20, 2012 3:26PM
The author refers to SS in the first paragraph as an "entitlement institution." Dear Mr. Holdin; while it may be an entitlement for some, it's not for most of us who have paid into SS.  In turn, I want MY money back. No entitlement here.
Aug 20, 2012 3:23PM

As Johhny2001 stated "PLEASE, PLEASE STOP CALLING SOCIAL SECURITY AN ENTITLEMENT. IT IS NOT. WE PAID IN ALL OUR LIVES FOR IT." Personally I have paid in $134,283.61 to S.S. and also $28,299 to Medicare since they itemized it on my pay stub in 1991. I have paid less into my 401K and it's worth almost triple my contribution, if the Government would quit dipping into it it would easily be fully funded with wise investing of the monies paid in by those of us contributing.

Aug 20, 2012 3:19PM

the federal government should pay all the ten trillion dollars loan back to ss. and we'll beOK!!!!

Aug 20, 2012 3:19PM
SS is a ponzi scheme, which we are forced to pay into and our "Bernie Madoff" gov't is helping themselves to it. It's not an entitlement, its OUR Money. The amount of money I have paid in with still 30+ years to go until I retire, could have already nearly paid for a rental home which could have provided more monthly income than I'll get from SS, IF it is still there by the time I retire or maybe die before eligiable if they keep raising the age. What a joke!
Aug 20, 2012 3:11PM

Were we just giving the government our money then, in addition to the taxes we are required to pay. I personally have contributed to SS for 22 years. If the government can't sustain SS then will we have all of our money returned? I would say not. Our government needs a complete overhaul. Kick all of the politians out of Washington and start over with limited terms for Congressman. And no pension plan! I bet they will still receive their pensions when we are being screwed out of SS.

Aug 20, 2012 3:10PM
to Speedway - yes they give a tax break to an already underfunded program, like they are trying to force it to an early grave, and we are to think that is in our best interest.
Aug 20, 2012 3:07PM
It is going out of business because The OBAMA tax cut is now underfunding an already underfunded program. They are giving a tax cut that will make it harder in the future to fund the program - Thanks OBAMA!
Aug 20, 2012 3:03PM
Social Security is a legal Ponzi scheme created by our very own government.

It depends on a high birth rate, or immigration rate, to increase taxpayers to fund the program.
We don't have a high birth rate, so that is why the politicians are allowing illegal immigration.

When we started the program, there was 16 taxpayers to every Social Security recipient.
Now, there are 2 taxpayers to every Social Security recipient.

The program is unsustainable, and trying to fund it via taxes will kill businesses, jobs, and eventually Social Security.

We need fixes for the Social Security program. They will be unpopular. Failing to do so will risk destroying the program and the country. The following fixes are among those that are required:

Means testing.
Increase retirement age to 67 or 70.
Reduce or Eliminate Cost Of Living Allowance.
Reduce benefits.

Aug 20, 2012 3:02PM
How can we justify billions of dollars in foreign aide but also ask our citizens to expect to work longer, get less, and pay more? We should not fund anything outside our borders until ALL of our citizens get what they have paid and worked for. Also, send congress a message - if they can't deliver a balanced budget than they are not eligable to run for re-election as they have not performed their job adequately.
Aug 20, 2012 2:58PM
Isn't it amazing how all the "journalists" that report on social security and medicare seem to blame the people that have paid into the systems for the last 40 years for wanting to benefit from their contributions. This group of people did nothing wrong and in fact contributed toward a promised benefit just as the government demanded all these years. Their only fault is having trusted the crooked politicians who have used these systems to systematically add more and more bought voters to their roles while making sure they themselves were not dependant on the snake oil they were selling. I agree we  must wean people off these programs but to simply abandon a group of citizens who planned their retirement with these programs help is, to use Barry's favorite word, "unfair". If you are going to rip the rug out from under these people then I suggest we exempt them from paying any taxes of any form from their originally promised age of retirement and at least let them keep any money they may have managed to save from the political leeches to date. To ask them to forego their promised income augmentation and fund todays "I want everything and want the government to pay for it all" generation is the lowest form of generational theft I can imagine!
Aug 20, 2012 2:58PM

They ship our jobs overseas giving them to foreigners.

They flood the labor market with Illegal Aliens here at home making it even harder to find a job and Driving Down wages even further, making it impossible to save for retirement.

They Strip us of Pensions.

They Strip us of 401Ks.

They Strip us of Health Care Benefits.

They guarantee those who have already been collecting Social Security that They will continue getting it without losing a dime and Tell those 55 years Old and under that They will be Robbed - Stripped of the Social Security benefits in SPITE of having been Robbed Blind in SS Taxes All their Lives.

What is left but Chaos, Miserableness and turning to Crime ?

Aug 20, 2012 2:58PM
Aug 20, 2012 2:56PM

Social Security was a Ponzi Scheme destined to fail from day one!  One only needs to read the wikipedia page on Ida May Fuller to understand why.  (HINT:  Our very first social security recipient paid less than $25 TOTAL into social security and collected money from it until after her 100th birthday.)


The sad reality is that so many not very smart people bought into the liberal mentality/promise that government would take care of them, and they over-spent their entire lives instead of saving for their retirement.  Now they're terrified that the ponzi scheme they're "entitled to" was but a mirage about ready to go bankrupt.  All of this confirms that most Americans are mathmatically and economically... ummmmmm, "challenged".

Aug 20, 2012 2:56PM

It's the same old song and dance......Social Security was never meant to be for Retirement....Yeah, we got that. We understand that. But who's fault is it that it has become to be relied on for Retirement ? We Americans or the Government ? The Government. The same one ( Congress ) that refuses to do their Jobs and fix this mess. Instead, they go on another 5 week Vacation. If Congress or others want to do way with SS, then fine. BUT NOT IN MID STREAM !!!!!  Change they System now, but make damn sure those of US that have paid into the SS "fund" all our working lives, that we get FULL benefits when we Retire !!!!!   Not 75%. Not 50%. We deserve 100% just as those who have been getting it for decades and decades did.

I don't much care who gets elected President. I'm voting 100% Anti-Incumbent. Vote them all out. 435 Congressmen, 100 Senators, The President and 9 Supreme Court justices have all the power they need to fix anything they want.That's 545 people who are directly,legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country. The house can approve any budget they want. If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they all agree to. The problems in this country are much bigger than just one man. Bigger than just the President. VOTE THEM ALL OUT.

Aug 20, 2012 2:52PM

in addition...if the economy collapses, those programs will be GONE! Prepare yourselves...Beans, rice and hard times...We've done it before and we'll do it again!

Take care of one another!

Aug 20, 2012 2:50PM
Reform and update the programs...Stop all the SPENDING...The Pork and the conference days are OVER! Reform is overdue! Get America back to work...Welfare, Unemployment...those should go first!
Aug 20, 2012 2:43PM
If these idiot politicans had not raided the SS fund, there would be plenty of money for us.  The shortsighted views of these idiots is utterly astounding.  There should be a test taken for anyone that wants to represent the people of this country. 
Leave SS and Medicare alone......quit borrowing money from it for other crap!!
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