Monday, October 24, 2016

6 myths about Social Security that voters and presidential candidates should know

Oct 20, 2016 | By Nick Thornton

Presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump were forced in their final debate to address an issue that has been conspicuously absent from this year’s election cycle: Social Security.

Of the topics chosen by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the last debate’s moderator, “debt and entitlements” topped the list.

That the issue has not been raised in the previous two debates has miffed some advocacy groups. AARP members reportedly sent NBC’s Lester Holt, moderator of the firs debate, 100,000 emails demanding the candidates address their positions on Social Security, according to

The 2017 Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will take effect for more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries beginning in...

Another 10,000 members took to social media urging ABC’s Martha Raddatz and CNN’s Anderson Cooper to raise the issue. Neither did, nor did voters in the town hall format raise it.

A survey from the Pew Research Center conducted earlier this year shows Social Security is a top issue for many voters, and not just seniors. Almost seven in 10 voters said Social Security was “very important” this election season, which was more than the importance respondents placed on trade, the environment and abortion.

Both Sec. Clinton and Mr. Trump outlined their positions on Social Security in a June AARP bulletin.

The Clinton campaign said “Republicans are using scare tactics about the future and effectiveness of Social Security to push through policies that would jeopardize it,” and claimed “the real threat to Social Security is Republican attempts to undermine the bedrock of the system.”

In the bulletin, her campaign said Sec. Clinton would fight any attempt to privatize the program, and said she opposes reducing annual cost-of-living adjustments and raising the retirement age.

The campaign also said a Clinton Administration would expand Social Security’s benefits to “those who need it most,” and said “the most fortunate” would be asked to pay more for expanded benefits.

Mr. Trump said his policy would address the solvency of Social Security and other entitlement programs by expanding the economy, and ultimately tax revenue, through tax, trade and immigration reform.

“I will work with Congress to ensure we have a pro-growth agenda in place,” Trump told AARP. “If we are able to sustain growth rates in GDP that we had as a result of the Kennedy and Reagan tax reforms, we will be able to secure Social Security for the future. Our goal is to keep the promises made to Americans through our Social Security program.”

According to the Social Security Administration’s most recent trustees report, the program’s trust funds will be depleted in 2034 under current law, at which time benefits would have to be cut by about 20 percent. The Congressional Budget Office has predicted the fund’s reserves will be exhausted by 2029.

Last April, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan think tank that advocates for sound fiscal policy, and has scored each candidate’s budget and tax proposals, released a list of the myths surrounding the Social Security debate.

Here is a look at some of the Social Security myths on that list:

Myth 1: We don’t need to worry about Social Security for many years

 CRFB says there is a high cost to waiting to reform Social Security. “The longer lawmakers wait to enact Social Security reform, the more abrupt and less targeted changes will have to be, the less time workers will have to plan and adjust, and the fewer the options policymakers will have. Perhaps more importantly, the size of the problem literally grows over time,” CRFB says.

The payroll taxes that fund Social Security would need to increase 21 percent today to make Social Security solvent. If lawmakers wait until 2034 to address the issue, those taxes would have to increase by 32 percent, CRFB says.

Myth 2: Social Security faces only a small funding shortfall


CRFB says significant adjustments have to be made to address Social Security’s “large but manageable financing gap.”

In 2016, the program is expected to pay out $70 billion more in benefits than it generates in tax revenue. The gap is expected to widen as the population ages. This year, Social Security spending will account for 13.9 percent of country’s total payroll. By 2040, the SSA projects the benefits will grow to 16.7 percent of payroll, even as tax revenue for the program remains equal to what it is today—about 13 percent of payroll.

Myth 3: Social Security solvency can be achieved solely by making the rich pay the same as everyone else

The existing Social Security payroll tax is capped at a worker’s first $118,500 of income. That covers about 83 percent of all the country’s wages, CRFP says, leaving 17 percent of wages untaxed for Social Security.

Policy experts commonly suggest raising or eliminating that cap. Doing so would “significantly improve Social Security’s finances, but it would not by itself make the program sustainably solvent,” according to CRFB.

Even with the cap’s elimination, some combination of reduced benefit increases and higher taxes on wages below the cap would still be needed to make the program solvent for the long run, CRFB says.

Myth 4: Today’s workers will not receive Social Security benefits

Even if lawmakers do nothing, retirees will still receive benefits in 2034. Revenue from taxes would be sufficient to pay about 79 percent of scheduled benefits.

“An immediate cut of that magnitude – particularly for older and lower income retirees – could be devastating. For that reason, most observers agree that Congress should take action to avoid such an abrupt cut,” says CRFB.

Myth 5: Social Security can be saved by ending waste, fraud and abuse

Republicans commonly cite the need to address fraud in the Social Security system as a primary measure to address the larger solvency issue.

While addressing fraud and abuse in the system would be sound policy, even eliminating all fraud would not do much to improve the program’s overall solvency, CRFB says.

That’s because there isn’t enough waste, fraud or abuse to significantly impact the program’s funding shortfalls. The SSA estimates that about $3 billion in improper payments are doled out every year. By contrast, about $150 billion in benefit cuts would have to be made every year going forward to make the program solvent.

At best, eliminating fraud and waste would only close 2 percent of the funding shortfall, CRFB says.

Myth 6: Raising the retirement age would hit low-income seniors the hardest

Critics of raising the normal retirement age argue the most vulnerable seniors would be hit the hardest, but analysis from several sources suggests the contrary.

The CBO says increasing the normal retirement age by one year, to age 68, would reduce the lifetime benefits of the highest earners by 5 percent, and 3 percent for the lowest earners. The Urban Institute came to a similar conclusion.

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