Chief Actuary: Social Security financially sound in decades ahead; modest fixes can protect it for decades more

From the Economic Policy Institute:

Social Security is financially sound through 2036, and modest increases in revenue can close the shortfall expected in 2037, according to a new analysis from researchers at the Economic Policy Institute, including former Chief Actuary of Social Security Harry C. Ballantyne. Furthermore, Social Security cannot add to public debt over the long term because it is prohibited from borrowing.

The analysis, Social Security and the Federal Deficit: Not cause and effect, explains how Congress made reforms to the Social Security system in 1983 (when Ballantyne was Chief Actuary) that fully accounted for both Baby Boomer retirements and increases in life expectancy. While the long-term finances of Social Security do need to be shored up due to a range of economic factors — including growing wage inequality — this can be accomplished with an increase in revenues equal to just 0.6% of GDP.

The reforms implemented during Ballantyne’s tenure included raising taxes and cutting benefits in order to build up a large trust fund. Social Security can only spend what it receives in tax revenues and what has accumulated in its trust fund from past surpluses and interest earnings. In 2025, Social Security will need to begin to draw on the principal of the trust fund to pay benefits. If no changes are made, the trust fund will be exhausted around 2037.

In the worst case scenario, if Congress does not act to address Social Security’s long-term budget shortfall before the trust fund is depleted, Social Security benefits would have to be cut by 22%. Social Security would not be able to make up the shortfall by borrowing because the program is prohibited from doing so by law.

Finally, the report outlines the reasons why raising the retirement age is not the best solution to resolving Social Security’s fiscal challenges. Increasing the retirement age would affect all workers, while improvements in life expectancy have been concentrated among higher levels of education and income.

Full report here.

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