Social Security is Not in Crisis, and We Don't Need to 'Fix' It

Social Security is going into deficit this year. This sounds like a really truly horrible event that threatens the solvency of the program. It isn't. It's evidence that private incomes have been shattered by the recession. The program returns to surplus in 2015, and then the red ink starts to flow. Still we are still many years away from facing anything resembling a Social Security crisis. As Time's John Curran notes, this entitlement poses something like more like a challenge. Tinkering with Social Security will be like an unattended dress rehearsal for reforming Medicare.

The changes we would have to make to the program are fairly straightforward addition/subtraction tactics. On the addition side, we can raise the cap on taxable income, currently at $106,000. On the subtraction side, we can tinker with indexing rates or means-testing benefits to keep full payments going to lower-income seniors. Delaying benefits makes quite a bit of sense because average post-retirement longevity has doubled since 1965 and will continue to grow, we hope.

In any case, there is really no reason to do anything about Social Security this year, for at least three reasons. First, this deficit isn't even projected to last five years. Second, Social Security is an entitlement, but it's also a 'stimulus.' It is money paid to retired folks who are likely to spend because the old have a lower savings rate and many of their savings have been gutted by the downturn. Third, fixing Social Security will always be tough politics, but delaying, cutting or reforming benefits the same year you've announced half a trillion in Medicare cuts is downright crazy.