Through the mechanism of the Trust Fund, Congress can put off having to act on the fundamental demographic problem that they can’t do much about. They hope they can run the Magic Money Machine to cover all the goodies they want, and in 2034, the Boomers will mostly be over age 80. Maybe another pandemic will deal with them….
(and nobody cares about us Gen Xers. In 2034, I won’t even be eligible for Social Security old age benefits.)
Nobody expects the Social Security benefits to be cut in 2034, or whatever other magic date when the Trust Fund runs out. The only thing the current Trust Fund mechanism requires is cuts… only if Congress doesn’t actually pass legislation to “fix” the issue.
They have been doing ad hoc “fixes” to Medicare and other parts for years so as to avoid massive cuts.
This year, Social Security’s deficit is unusually high due to lower revenues and higher benefits: 1.75%. In 2040, the deficit climbs to 3.70% rather than 3.54%. In 2080, the deficit stands at 4.87% rather than 4.59%.
Put another way, if there were no Trust Fund accounting mechanism now, the OASI program would have been able to pay 93% of benefits. This would drop to 76% in 2035 – 2040 – 2045, then drop further to being able to pay 70% of benefits.
What’s more, this year, the actuaries changed several assumptions. They assume that by the year 2036, fertility rates will increase to 2.00 children per woman, an increase from the 2020 report’s assumption of 1.95. They also assume a long-term unemployment rate of 4.5% rather than 5%. At the same time, they calculate alternate projections with more pessimistic assumptions, including a continuingly low fertility rate (1.69), a higher rate of mortality improvement (that is, longer-lived recipients), a higher rate of unemployment (5.5%), and others. In these alternate calculations, the 2040 deficit becomes 6.47% rather than 3.7% (benefits 64% payable), and the 2080 deficit becomes 12.39% rather than 4.87% (benefits 50% payable).
Also consider that, at the moment, there are 2.7 workers for each Social Security recipient (2.8 in 2020). This is forecast to drop to 2.2 in 2040 and ultimately down to 2.1. But if the population trends are those of the pessimistic scenario, then that 2.1 would drop to 1.5 by the year 2080.
Trustees for the Social Security trust fund in an annual report released Tuesday said the program is expected to pay benefits that exceed its income in 2021, the same as it anticipated last year at the outset of the pandemic.
The trustees now project elevated mortality rates related to the pandemic through 2023, and expect lower immigration and child-bearing this year and next, compared with their 2020 estimates. They also expect the pandemic has lowered worker productivity and thus economic output permanently.
Given Social Security’s dire financial condition, there is growing interest in attempting to harness the power of private capital markets to bail out the faltering system. However, despite its surface attractiveness, allowing the government to invest funds from the Social Security trust fund in private capital markets would be a terrible mistake that would have severe consequences for the U.S. economy.
Allowing the government to invest the trust fund in private capital markets would amount to the “socialization” of a large portion of the U.S. economy. The federal government would become the nation’s largest shareholder, with a controlling interest in nearly every American company. Government ownership brings with it serious problems of government control and is a threat to the efficiency and competitiveness of the U.S. economy.
Moreover, experience in other countries has shown that government investments seldom achieve the rates of return seen in private investment. Attempts by the government to manipulate the markets could further undermine returns and threaten general market stability.