A recently-released report from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Medicare Board of Trustees paints a grim picture regarding the future of Social Security benefits. Based upon current projections, the trust funds which provide the basis for payments to Social Security beneficiaries will be completely exhausted by 2036. As a result, millions of Americans whose retirement plans include payments from Social Security will be left with nothing. While the possible demise of the Social Security system has been bandied about for many years, having an expiration date of sorts established has made a stark reality of what had previously been considered to be only a theoretical worst-case scenario.
This unfortunate news is the result of years of fiduciary sleight-of-hand, a particularly odious brand of the “borrow from Peter to pay Paul” mindset, when the reality is that there was never any legitimate intent to repay Peter in the first place. The sad reality is that those who did the borrowing stood to lose very little in the likely event of the failure of their scheme. The unfortunate victims will be the countless number of American taxpayers who seemingly (mis)placed their faith in the Security part of Social Security, while the perpetrators of this high-stakes three card monte ruse will retire comfortably, their juicy government pensions and full medical coverage fully intact.
The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, part of his “New Deal” to rescue the country from the nearly-lethal clutches of the Great Depression, while also providing some relief to our aging population. Over the years, the program has been expanded to include Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits for workers who find themselves unable to earn a living, along with other innovations as the needs presented themselves. During periods of economic difficulty, such as during the early 1980s, belts were tightened in order to stave off the looming threat of bankruptcy by way of reducing the amount paid out to beneficiaries.
During more prosperous times when income exceeded expenditures, lawmakers chose to utilize those profits to fund other programs with the empty assurance that these borrowed funds would be repaid at some point in the future. As it stands right now, it appears that this “future” will arrive sometime after 2036, when the citizens whose labor has funded the Social Security program may very well come face to face with the reality that the fruit of their career-long payroll deductions has either rotted or been consumed by marauding vermin.
Thankfully, Americans have proven time and time again that we can be remarkably resourceful and resilient when pushed by circumstances to do so. While the future may appear to be bleak, it hasn’t arrived yet. There is still time to act, to stem the hemorrhage of red ink within the Social Security system and to make good on the original promise of a “New Deal”. As a society, we have not yet surrendered the opportunity or the responsibility to care for those among us who need it, especially when they have legitimately earned it.