Honesty is often the first casualty of a political campaign, as the candidates take shots that they hope will dent the popularity of their rivals. But in this election year, it?s high time for a little honesty about Social Security. Frankly, we don?t have time to waste.
The revered entitlement program seems fine, but it needs fixing. Starting in 2018, Social Security will start paying out more than it takes in through taxes.
That?s because there will be far more retirees and not enough workers to support them. When Social Security was launched during the Great Depression, we had 32 workers paying into the system for every one retiree. It was easy to afford a ?pay as you go? system.
Today we have only three workers for every retiree. No wonder Social Security taxes have soared. And there?s nowhere for them to go but up. Over the coming decades, the ratio will eventually drop to just two workers for every retiree.
Politicians like to point to the Social Security ?trust fund? and claim that we have enough assets to pay out benefits for decades to come. But that?s simply not true. In fact, there are no real assets in the trust fund.
Think of it this way: Most people have some sort of retirement account, usually a 401(k) or IRA account. Those contain real money. Our employers sets money aside from our pay, or we deposit money from our checking accounts. When we retire, there are actual assets waiting to be drawn down.
Social Security is different. Every day, employers and employees send their taxes -- real money -- to Washington. Some of that money is supposed to be set aside for future Social Security benefits. But that?s not what happens.
Instead, the government spends the money on whatever it pleases. It?s used to pay military salaries and build roads -- and to fund absurd pork-barrel programs, such as $725,000 for Philadelphia?s ?Please Touch? museum.