Will Social Security Be Around in 20 Years?

Posted by Nick on September 5, 2012

Over the years, there has been a lot of hullabaloo over the solvency of the Social Security system here in the United States and whether or not Social Security will still be around in 20 years. Many people have fears and questions that are not sufficiently answered by those who represent us in congress.

(A quick note here: I am not trying to debate political issues about Social Security; merely to state the current condition, and what can be expected in the future.)

How Does Social Security Work?

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935, as part of President Roosevelt’s “New Deal” plan. One of the main purposes of the program (it encompasses many other items as well) is to provide a “safety net” for retired individuals. In other words, after working during your life, qualifying for social security, and paying taxes for social security (part of the FICA, or Federal Insurance Contributions Act, taxes) you would get a check from the government, based on your working wages, to serve as a form of government pension, in addition to whatever savings you already stowed away for retirement. Not intended to replace company pensions and individual retirement savings, the program is meant to act as a “third leg” of those other two retirement funding options.

An important part of the Social Security system is that it relies on today’s workers to pay for today’s retirees. The FICA tax that comes out of your paycheck basically goes directly to your parents’, or grandparents’, social security check. When you begin collecting social security, your children and grandchildren will be paying taxes to fund your social security.

Current Social Security Tax Rate

The social security tax rate is usually 6.2% of your earnings (or 12.4% for self employed tax). However, the Payroll Tax Cut temporarily lowered the social security tax rate for the employee to 4.2% in 2011 and 2012. The employer still pays 6.2%.

What’s the Problem?

The basic problem with the way social security is set up is as follows: when the current generation’s population is larger than the previous generation’s, the retirees are funded very well. However, when the reverse is true, retirees are not able to collect as much.

Think of it this way. When the baby boomers began working, their FICA taxes were being used to fund Social Security for relatively few retirees. Just as an example (these numbers are made up, but express my point), let’s say there were 6 workers for every Social Security collector. The Social Security system would have plenty of money to pay retirees, and perhaps a surplus to put in a trust fund.

However, as the baby boomers did not have as many children as their parent’s did, these numbers change dramatically. For example, say that now there are 2.4 workers for every retiree. Clearly, these retirees will be unable to collect as much as their parents’ did, as there is not as much tax money coming in to fund the program.

And therein lies the problem; although there is a trust fund for Social Security, it will eventually run out as the retiree population increases, and the worker population decreases. Social Security Statements state the trust fund will be depleted in 2037.

Will I Get Social Security When I Reach Retirement Age?

Will Social Security be around in 20 years? 25 years? 40 years? This is one of the most common misconceptions about the Social Security system. Even if the trust fund runs completely of money, there will still be workers paying into the system. Even if the tides are turned completely around, and there are more retirees than workers, those workers will still pay FICA taxes that will go to retirees. Will those elderly receive as much as the previous generation? Of course not. But they will get something.

There are three ways the government can help the program. They can raise the FICA tax (or the Social Security Wage Base), raise the retirement age, or lower the benefits for retirees. All of these options have been discussed heavily in Congress for decades, and there has even been calls to end the program altogether, and give individuals the ability to fund their own retirement programs better.

Will the system ever be perfected? Probably not. Will it go away completely? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong.

What is your opinion? Will Social Security be around in 20 years?

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Comments to Will Social Security Be Around in 20 Years?

  1. Yes, it will still be around but some changes are needed. It’s frustrating because Social Security is one of the easier things to fix by making some minor adjustments, but the fear of political suicide keeps everybody just kicking the can down the road.

    Also, I love the blog but I can’t stand getting interrupted in the middle of typing a comment by the popup asking to subscribe to the newsletter especially since there’s a checkbox right below the comment box that serves the same purpose. May be unsubscribing.

    Money Beagle

    • I agree completely; to all your points. Social Security is definitely a political issue that representatives, with two year terms, certainly don’t want to touch such a hot issue.

      I don’t know if she’s got a direct link to contact her, but Madison runs the show here at MyDollarPlan. I agree the subscription newsletter is bothersome. Please don’t unsubscribe! Let Madison know how you feel, maybe she’s gotten other complaints, and will make some changes. I’ll let her know, too.

      Thanks for your comment, Money Beagle!


  2. It will be around in 20 years. The question is how much it can pay out. The current projections are that it can pay out about 70% of promised benefits if nothing is done. So I’m assuming I’ll get 70% of what my statements say.

    From a neutral public policy perspective, this is frustrating because studies show that right now it wouldn’t take that much of a benefit cut, tax increase, or retirement age increase to bring this into balance. If all three ideas were used, it would be quite minimal. Yet the longer we wait, the larger and more disruptive the change will need to be, which nobody really wants to see happen.

    S. B.

  3. I also agree with all the political issues. All the rules of Social security are very frustrating, as there are very bad specific rules for retirement. As an example, the conditions for getting retirement of needing to work more then 15 hours per month. Additionally, as per our type of work we may get the Social Security.

    expert insurance

  4. I have always wondered why the Congress and President will not fix the SS system. The SS tax rate has not been increased since 1990, yet benefits continue to increase. A very easy fix would be raise the SS tax rate the same as the COLA each year, until the tax rate reached 10% for employee and employer.
    This increase would be more in line with the benefits paid out, since very few workers have company funded retirement plans.If it was raised 2% next year it would go from 6.2% to 6.32%. It would take 15 to 20 years to get to 10%, and no one would have to take a cut in benefits.


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