Social Security: Don’t mistake a sheep for a wolf

Hype might make for scary headlines – but Social Security, an economic bedrock for millions of Americans for decades now, is actually in fine shape until at least 2085, which is as far out as the Social Security Trustees try to predict such things. You just have to read the fine print instead of glossing over the details.

Here’s Bob Weiner, former chief of staff for the House Committee on Aging, doing exactly that on CNN this morning:

The program is solvent for the next 30 years. Once, and even then, when they say insolvent, it still will be able to pay 75% of the benefits even under the worst economic model. And the economic model that they’re using is the crash that we’re in right now. So they’ve taken the worst case scenario, instead of recognizing that the economy will improve and that we’ll go back to a solvency situation with Social Security.

Estimates of Social Security’s long-term solvency depend on whether you assume the American economy will perform either: a) much as it has since the Civil War, with average annual growth at about 3 percent (including the Great Depression and assorted mild to severe recesssions); or b) much worse, averaging only 2.6 percent a year over the next 30 years.

If b) turns out to be true, then the trust fund eventually runs out of assets in about 2037. But even then, because of how benefits are calculated, the net buying power of those Social Security checks will still be higher than they are today.

More on this from former Social Security Trustee Robert Reich, and Jon Talton expands on the larger picture in the Sound Economy blog at the Seattle Times.

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