Social Security is the largest expense in the budget of the United States Government. It directly affects 60 million beneficiaries, and likely indirectly affects all Americans not connected to Prepper reality TV.
While the program is large and vital, AARP reports that only 3 percent of the questions directed to our Presidential candidates deal with Social Security. It is a vivid contrast. 25 percent of the budget versus 3 percent of the questions.
Many Millennials will not appreciate that contradiction of common sense. They tend to see Social Security bounded by their own personal finances. For example, 51 percent of Millennials do not believe that Social Security will even exist when they are ready for retirement. These people are not worried about what they do not expect to collect.
This statistic shows how far removed the average American has drifted from the reality of the finances of the program. The problem for those under the age of 35 isn’t whether they will or won’t receive benefits. That problem is 30 years away. The immediate issue is: how does the average Millennial deal with their parents and grandparents as their benefits are reduced? Today the average person turning 68 expects to be alive when the Trust Fund is exhausted, and benefit levels are reduced.
The math of crisis is simple. For every $1 that the system has ever collected, it has created $2 of promises that it doesn’t expect to keep. These figures do not come from right-wing ideologues. They come from the Trustees of the Social Security Administration. This isn’t demographic problem. It is a problem of a a political class unwilling to admit that the system is broken.
Social Security reform isn’t about fixing Social Security. It is a nearly 50 year discussion about upon whom these consequences will fall. The 1983 reform of Social Security, almost revered as a sign of a model of bipartisanship and leadership, introduced changes that were phased in such that the largest tax increases and harshest benefit cuts were handed to people 17 and younger. Basically Washington agreed that non-voters would bear the brunt of the cleaning-up Social Security.
It isn’t cleaned-up. The person who was 17 year-old of 1983 will turn 50 this year, expecting to retire in the year when benefits are reduced. Instead of learning lessons from our past mistakes, the experts and pundits want to recycle failure. Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Commission released a 1983 reform redux, which takes nearly 25 pages of charts and pretty graphs, to say if we agree that our kids will pay 10 percent more in tax we can have slightly less than the 23 percent benefits that we would get from doing nothing.
For 80 years, we have sought to protect voters at the expense of non-voters. In 1983, we were able to shield those 45 and older from any changes. In 2005, GWB and his allies promised to protect those 55 and older. Today we will have a problem trying to insulate people who are in retirement from the forces of economic gravity.
But no one is asking that question.