[REMINDER: For those who want to switch to a new carrier for your Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, you have 12 more days until the enrollment period expires on 31 December.]
A lot of the presidential candidates, Democrats included, refer to the Social Security "crisis" in the same terms President Bush did, a couple of years ago, when he was trying to privatize (read: kill) the most successful social program in the history of the world.
Let me be clear again: Social Security has no chance of failing any time soon and it will take only a couple of tweaks to keep it solvent for the long term. This is important to know as the candidates blather on about things they, apparently, know nothing about and we make our choices - for president and Congress alike - over the coming year.
Now, thanks to the good folks at the Entitled to Know blog, who cover Social Security and Medicare matters with great authority, we are directed to one of the best and most comprehensive stories refuting the political propaganda against Social Security, published last week in The Dallas Morning News and written by Bob Moos.
"To say, as some politicians have, that Social Security is going broke is not just wrong but also counterproductive," said Thomas Saving, a Social Security trustee and director of the Private Enterprise Research Center at Texas A&M University. "It needlessly scares people," reports Mr. Moos.
He also quotes other experts:
"Social Security can afford 78 million boomers and, with some reforms, future generations as well," said Virginia Reno, vice president for income security at the National Academy of Social Insurance.
"The public has been led to think Social Security is out-of-date and on its last legs," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Haven't we been scared enough?"
As Mr. Moos points out, Social Security will run a surplus this year, after paying benefits, of $189 billion and annual surpluses will continue for about another ten years. In 2017, the system will begin paying out more than it takes in. Interest on the surplus will be used first to pay benefits, then the reserves themselves.
In 2041, if nothing is done, the reserves will be used up, and Social Security will be able to pay only 75 percent of benefits on a pay-as-you-go system.
However, it doesn't take much to ensure Social Security - IF Congress makes changes soon.
Moos lists most of the possible correction choices that we discussed here two years ago during the president's kill-Social-Security campaign. An overview:
- Raise retirement age
- Change the cost-of-living adjustment
- Raise the earnings cap
- Use the estate tax
- Invest part of the trust fund in stocks
- Encourage private accounts
You can read short explanations of these ideas in Mr. Moos's story along with a brief overview of each candidate's proposals.
Now here's the coolest part. Mr. Moos links to "The Social Security Game" at the American Academy of Actuaries website. In the game, you can choose which fixes you like best and at the end, you'll see whether you have covered the future shortfall in Social Security. This isn't just for fun; it will inform you about whether a given candidate's solution makes sense.
Plus, there is a lot of material at the actuaries' site to help you understand the Social Security issue so you will know when the candidates are trying to snow you.
The 2008 election is undoubtedly the most important in our lifetimes. Our country is in deep trouble on many fronts and there are a lot of issues we need to be on top of to make informed choices at the ballot box - not that any of those choices are anywhere near ideal. But they're all we've got.
[The Christmas season is nigh upon us so today at The Elder Storytelling Place, Nancy Leitz recalls a childhood holiday ritual in Christmas Shopping 1939.]