Social Security has been providing retirees with financial aid for eight decades now, but there is no question the program is facing some funding issues in the relatively near future.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security is responsible for keeping 22 million people above the poverty line every month. The Social Security Administration also found that 62% of retirees use Social Security to supplement at least half their monthly income.
A lot of people rely on the benefits program and lawmakers have seemingly ignored warnings from the Social Security Board of Trustees since 1985 of a future funding crunch. The trustees’ latest report shows the program’s funds will be insolvent in 2035, which is when it will start paying out only 80% of benefits.
Part of the problem lies with the large size of the baby boomer generation that is entering retirement, putting strain on the Social Security trust fund. But there are other issues that are playing a part as well.
1. Wealthier People Are Benefiting More From Social Security
Social Security was designed to help the less fortunate in society, but there are two ways the program is actually helping the wealthy more.
For one, Social Security only taxes wages up to $132,900 in 2019, so the program is potentially losing out on a lot of funding from payrolls that exceed that amount. In 2018, Social Security brought in $885 billion of its $1 trillion inflow from this 12.4% payroll tax.
The Social Security Administration found that from 1983 to 2016, earned income exempted from the payroll tax quadrupled from $300 billion to $1.2 trillion. That’s a hefty chunk of change that could have been taxed to help bolster the dwindling Social Security trust.
Wealthier individuals are also drawing more out the program because they have larger benefit checks month-to-month, and they are typically living longer because of access to better health care.
2. Everyone Is Living Longer and Social Security Isn’t Keeping Up
Speaking of living longer, the average life expectancy was only 62 at birth when Social Security was created in 1935. That has grown to 78.6 years today, and it’s putting more strain on the program’s funding.
The full retirement age for Social Security, which is the age that an individual can receive 100% of their allotted benefits, has only risen 10 times since the program’s inception 84 years ago to a range between 65 and 67.
So a program that was only intended to provide benefits for a few years is now having to support retirees potentially for decades.
3. Fewer Babies Means Less Going Into Social Security
While more and more baby boomers enter retirement and start receiving Social Security benefits, younger generations (i.e. millennials) are part of the funding problem, too, because they aren’t having as many kids.
Birthrates hit an all-time low 59.1 births for every 1,000 women in 2018. That marked a 15% decline since 2007, and it hurts Social Security because it throws off the worker-to-beneficiary ratio. Fewer workers in the future puts a damper on the payroll tax.
So baby boomers aren’t solely responsible for wrecking Social Security. Wealth inequality, lower birthrates and the fact that Americans are simply living longer raises big question marks for the benefits program that has helped millions for over eight decades.
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