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anywhere in the vicinity of our current demographic realities which, as we live well into our 80s, hardly square with outdated ideas of retirement.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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209Comments
Aug 20, 2012 4:55PM
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I do not consider Social Security and Medicare as entitlements.  I have had to pay into those institutions for my entire adult working life.  Some years as a self employed person I had to pay both the employers and employees share. If I could have been investing that money somewhere else, I would have something to retire on.  Additionally, when Congress could not legally touch that money there was never a problem with the system. But once they figured out a way to spend it, then the money and its earnings realy went out the door.  Now they want to tells us it is an entitlement.
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First , the average life span of Americans is 77, not in the 80's.  Men  on average live to be about 75 and women about 81.  We've made changes in the past, raising the contributions of both employers and employees from 2.4% to 6.2% each, and we've raised the amount subject to social security taxes from as little as $4,0000 to the current $106,000 in earnings.  Actually, we don't even need to raise the %age rates to keep social security solvent.  We simply need to raise the amount subject to social security taxes from $106,000 to $1,000,000.  The millionaires won't go broke.
Aug 20, 2012 4:38PM
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if you never pay in you should never get anything out social security or medicare we give to people who never put into the system ged rid of them part of problem fixed
Aug 20, 2012 4:34PM
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I work in law and used to do Social Security disabilty work.  I've seen so many fakers, it makes my head spin, while truly disabled people have to wait about two years to collect.  I have seen teenage junkies collect disability, as well as little kids with ADHD.  THEY ARE NOT BREADWINNERS, so why are they getting Social Security.  I know a young former bank manager collecting disability due to anxiety (?) and her pre-adolescent kid is also collecting due to ADHA.  While they have these two government checks coming in, the husband/father earns a great income.  What a racket!  I go to work each day with horrible arthritis, a blood disorder and a lung disorder and have a long walk to get there If I can get out there and manage to put one foot in front of the other at age 63, these young people that I know can darn well get out and work.  What I saw in law was frightening - foreigners with terrible diseases coming here and signing up.  My sister worked for the government and said airplanes would fly here from Russia and bring people here who never paid in, while a lawyer was on board signing them all up for Social Security disability.  This is sickening and disgusting.
Aug 20, 2012 4:31PM
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Another thing to remember is the biggest reason SS is failing - all the money that has been taken out and used for other things, starting with LBJ.  THAT is why there is no money left for the Baby Boomers.  Do some research.
Aug 20, 2012 4:30PM
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I like MirageGuy's solution - we shouldn't get to vote if we don't pay any taxes.  But, I see most don't agree.  Why is that?  Shouldn't we all want to pay our fair share?
Aug 20, 2012 4:29PM
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Same old entitlement crap. You & your employers pay into the system 50/50. Not the government. Too many people want to ride government charities into social security and get the most out of the working tax payers. Medicare would be better served with educating students during formative years in public education on health care dangers. Especially surgar, drugs, nutrition, sex, cigarettes and alcohol. Too many parents who have these bad habits do not think their bad until it is too late. Corporate America call this preventative maintenance by educating employees on dangers to the company. Why not use their example on young people's health in education? We have a good system & country. Everyone does not make it to collect benefits. Better service & caring by elected government servants to the legal occupants of our country would benefit the system financially.
Aug 20, 2012 4:25PM
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I am NOT willing to live with that. That's why I took the income leveling option when I took an early retirement package at 55. F***waiting; it will not be here when I reach 62 anyway!

Aug 20, 2012 4:25PM
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Most of the people on ss worked and payed into it as it was designed for.. therefore it is not an entitlement!  Stupid Government gives it out like candy anymore. You don't pay in, you don't take out!
Aug 20, 2012 4:25PM
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NEITHER SOCIAL SECURITY NOR MEDICARE ARE ENTITLEMENTS!  GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT!!!!  (and yes, I am shouting!)  People that never worked, or that dont have enough quarters when their claim is approved only get $465.
Aug 20, 2012 4:21PM
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This is so simple.  When Social Security was implemented, the retirement age was 65 and the average lifespan was 61.  Today the average lifespan is 78 so the retirement age should be 82!  I am willing to live with that, are you?
Aug 20, 2012 4:20PM
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I had my first job at age nine selling newspapers and paying Social Security. I had two other jobs during my youth and then I joined the Army when I turned 17. I have paild into this even now and I'm almost 62. I have worked hard all of my life and now they don't want to give me my due. Bull@#!&!!!

These guys sit up on capitol hill and in the white house and in just a few years they are set for life, free health care, pension, etc. Some of them including the squatter in the white house has never really had a job untll 2008, I know being President is a tough job even if I don't agree with him. That's where you 1%'s need to gather. Loook into how much money these people are worth, how much they've gained by being "our" elected officials.

Aug 20, 2012 4:18PM
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Entitlement?? Only for the leaches who have not paid in.  The government has expanded the roles of this program far beyond its intentions.  How does someone who has never paid in qualify?  Because our social system government felt generous with other peoples money.  How does the government "borrow" (steal) money from the fund and simply leave an IOU?  Political positions should be limited to people who have demonstrate some level of fiduciary responsibility.  Washington bureaucrats can't balance their personal checkbooks!
Aug 20, 2012 4:14PM
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Change work history from 10 to 20 years or even higher to qualify.
Aug 20, 2012 4:08PM
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To many young people on social security.  To many bogus claims!   People that never paid into system should only be allowed $400 a month. Max!   Time to make some cuts and changes.
Aug 20, 2012 4:05PM
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 Hi, in order for Social Security to keep going the Goverment will have to move back the age when you can collect your money !
Aug 20, 2012 3:49PM
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I have a simple fix for government.  You get 1 vote for every $5000 in taxes you pay.  Pay 1,000,000 and you get 200 votes, pay $12,000 get 3 votes, pay $25 you get 1 vote.

That will fix what ails the country.  No more voting for a living.  

This idea that people that don't PAY for government should have any say at all is utter nonsense.
Aug 20, 2012 3:45PM
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Our age distribution is top heavy.  We need to import young healthy people from other countries to make our age distribution conducive to supporting our top heavy population.  These people should be required to have a good education and or vocational training and to pay immediately a sum of money into social insurance upon arrival. These young people would spend money they make to create jobs and buy homes to reduce the housing crisis.  If you look at china, india, brazil ect. you will see the new growing economies have a large proportion of young people just like the us in the 19th and 20th centuries and like england in the 18th century.  The quantity of jobs are not fixed.  Better days are not behind us if we learn of an industrial  and info economy with plenty of capital sitting on the sidelines or going to these other economies can keep up with the population demands.
Aug 20, 2012 3:44PM
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What we have here is a failure to communicate. I paid into SS for 45 years and yes I planned on it for part of my retirement, along with a union pension. Now they say the system is in trouble because of the leaches in Washington. Close down SS benefits and this country will TRULY be in serious trouble. There will be an uprising of which Washington never would have invisioned. The people of this country are tired of all the **** and unkept promises that these so called politician make. It is time to down size government not the paid for benefits of its people. 
Aug 20, 2012 3:42PM
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Common Sense, then you will have no problem limiting what you get to what you contributed?

The simple facts are these.  The taxes collected are not enough to pay benefits for the current life expectancy.    The system was not designed to provide the level of disability currently being paid out either.  The tax should be raised to go with this risk as well.  Lastly, someone had to pay for all the social security collected by those that contributed NOTHING, when the Ponzi scheme started.  

Like the idiot W's Medicare Part D, the people collecting today contributed NOTHING to it.  

The Social Security tax needs to be increased substantially to account for these issues.  Instead the current imbecile Obama has slashed the tax that supports the system.

Now, here is the fix, first off lower the retirement age back to 65, no one seriously believes a 68 y/o cop is chasing down anyone or working 40 stories up welding.   Next Double the social security tax.  Then index the tax to life expectancy.  The index the tax to increase for every COLA increase.

Personally, I would drag Madoff out of prison and put him in charge of the Ponzi scheme and tell him to make it last as long as possible.   He is the perfect person to run the system.

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