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Sunday, September 25, 2016

I was all set to submit a column to my editor with reactions to the fact sheet I recently offered my readers called “When to Take Your Social Security Benefits.” But then I woke up this morning to this headline in my morning paper: “Social Security Drain is Gaining Momentum.” It was yet another news report predicting the demise of our nation’s bedrock retirement insurance program. So I’m delaying that practical column about the best time to sign up for Social Security to write a more politically-charged newspaper story dealing with the hot button issue of Social Security reform.

The latest news stories focused on a recent report issued by Social Security’s Board of Trustees, based on data compiled by Social Security Administration actuaries, that the program’s trust funds will run dry in 2033, three years earlier than the estimate in last year’s report. Lower than anticipated wages (and thus lower projected payroll tax receipts) were cited as the main reason for the sooner-than-expected funding shortfall.

This latest trustee’s report will inevitably lead to all kinds of gloom and doom stories in the media — some of them predicting catastrophic consequences for the program and its beneficiaries. Indeed, the report in my local paper said, “Unless Congress acts — and forcefully — payments to millions of Americans will be cut.”

And I know I will get emails from thousands of my readers. Some will be seriously concerned that their Social Security checks will soon be reduced. Others will make hasty and ill-advised decisions about starting their Social Security benefits (perhaps too soon) because they are worried that the rug will be pulled out from beneath them — that Social Security rules will change dramatically in the next couple of years.

My message to all concerned is to take a deep breath and calm down. Sure, Social Security has long-range funding problems — due almost entirely to the fact that baby boomers are turning into senior boomers at the rate of tens of thousands per day. But they are problems that can be dealt with in a rational and comprehensive manner. And they will be dealt with as soon as this country has the political will to take on the challenge. And I think that will is just about there.

This problem isn’t new, of course. People have known about the demographic time bomb represented by the aging baby boom generation for many years now. And most folks have been inclined to blame Congress for inaction, wondering: “Why don’t they do something to fix Social Security?”

I place a large part of the blame on the American people — on voters and our negatively-focused election process. For example, if I had run for Congress anytime in the recent past on a Social Security reform platform that called for an increase in the retirement age and a slight decrease in annual cost-of-living adjustments (two very realistic and rational reform scenarios), I would have lost the election in a landslide. My opponent would have run negative ads claiming that I was out to gut grandma’s Social Security checks.

I can envision the 30 second spot now. There would have been a picture of me taken on my worst bad hair and ugly face day, and next to me would be a sweet little old lady staring at her Social Security check in horror. A very ominous-sounding voiceover would say, “Did you know that Tom Margenau has a plan to slash our Social Security?” Then we would have seen my opponent, as handsome as the day is long, walking though a field of flowers with lots of happy and smiling senior citizens surrounding him. And you’d have heard him say, “Vote for me, Wally Wonderful. I love my grandma and I won’t touch her Social Security check with a ten foot pole.” And sadly, the voters would have bought it.

  • jerder

    If both parties in the federal government would come up with a way to pay back the billions of dollars that they borrowed from the social security trust fund over the past 35 years the fund would not be in such dire straits. Only one man, Tip O’neil, who was speaker of the house (and/or a congressman) and a democrat back in the eighties and nineties, tried repeatedly to pass a law that would prevent the congress and senate from using money in the social security fund to help fund pet projects and help shore up the government’s annual budget. He could not find enough votes from either the G.O.P. or democrats to get it passed. And when George W. Bush was running for president, he asked on his speaking tour across the U.S. what the public wanted him to do with the surplus left from the Clinton years. The public said time and again that they wanted the surplus to be put into the social security fund to pay off the government IOU’s. Of course Mr. Bush did not do what the public asked. Instead the surplus was used to help fund the Iraq war.

  • ereilad

    The cost of living allowance is phony. The actual increase in prices of things is much higher than the cost of living increases allow. The FED and congress are diluting the dollar to such a great extent that the actual purchasing power of the existing Social Security pensions goes down each year. A cap on future pension benefits would be an easy “fix” so they can fund tax cuts for the wealthy and all those foreign wars that are so profitable for them.

    • Once you have your cap what do you do about the cost of living increases that will be needed in the future? Eventually the pension one gets will be erased by the lack of any cost of living increase. In this scenario the COLA is indeed phony.

  • hubydoll166

    Sort of makes you wonder why the GOP dont support health care..which is it now, people are living longer but 66% of the country is overweight and unhealthy? How can we live longer but be sicker than ever? We have fixes for all our issues but its just like health matters, if the doctors fix problems then they wont have patients..If politicians come up with reasonable answers then there wont be issues to run on..its a sad way to run a country..very sad..everybody worries about today but talks about a better tomorrow for our children..Just like the post office, the GOP want to dismantle anything having to do with the american people when its profitable..I dont understand the logic but this country needs to wake up and take our government out of the control of the people whop are destroying it before it gets much harder to do so. If this isnt the year we take our government back then we are in some serious deep turd..I cant imagine raising the age for social security as a person wont collecvt for very long before they pass on..raise the deducvtion and make it illegal for congress to co mingle it..its illegal for us to do that, why not them? Its a shame. One has to wonder that if big biz and GOP have this grand scheme to keep jobs low just to try and crush the program..I believe they are doing just that and these are patriotic americans in office? I may not live another 20 plus years but I sure have a lot of emapathy for what we are doing to our future generations. They deserve at least what we have…not an everyperson for themselves,at the mercy of the private overpaid greedy sector without consumer protecvtion plan that the GOP push everyday..its ok if your a lawmaker who will benefit from laws you create today that will help you when your booted out of office tho..thats the government we have today…hows it working for you?

  • Jerder I am 68 and so I know you are speaking the truth. I for one am so fed up with both political parties I can scream. Nonetheless, while I ALWAYS vote for change, it is hard to imagine that the voting public can ever get together and send a cohesive message to our representatives throughout the United States that we want our best interests to be represented as WE see our best interests and not what large industry blocks see as their best interests. If I remember my history right, the founding fathers were themselves elitists: landowners were allowed to vote; slaves were counted as 3/5ths a person and the landowner did the arithmetic and had whatever number of votes his “people holdings” allowed. If that is historically accurate, not much has changed over the years.

  • Jerder I am 68 and so I know you are speaking the truth. I for one am so fed up with both political parties I can scream. Nonetheless, while I ALWAYS vote for change, it is hard to imagine that the voting public can ever get together and send a cohesive message to our representatives throughout the United States that we want our best interests to be represented as WE see our best interests and not what large industry blocks see as their best interests. If I remember my history right, the founding fathers were themselves elitists: landowners were allowed to vote; slaves were counted as 3/5ths a person and the landowner did the arithmetic and had whatever number of votes his “people holdings” allowed. If that is historically accurate, not much has changed over the years.