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Social Security: Don't Believe the Hype Thumbnail

Social Security: Don't Believe the Hype

It’s that time again, when the federal government reports on the fiscal state of Social Security (headed toward zero) and also estimates the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for next year.  Last year, retirees got a 9% raise, but were told the program would be insolvent by 2033.  This year, retirees should receive around a 3% raise, and the program is still on the way to financial oblivion. 

One of these two things is important, the other is noise. 

When it comes to Social Security, the federal government have been increasing percentage raises for cost-of-living adjustments, while the Social Security Trust Fund is heading for insolvency. So, what can be done?

Social Security Trust Fund

While it’s true that, at its current run rate, the Social Security Trust Fund will be empty in 2033, that doesn’t mean it will bring in no money.  No matter what happens with the fund balance, people still pay taxes and, therefore, the agency will bring in money.  The Social Security Administration estimates that if we do nothing, the program will bring in enough cash to pay 80% of benefits. 

But does that sound likely?  Does it make sense that the U.S. government would allow the elderly to take a 20% benefit cut?  For all of its faults, the U.S. is still a republic, which means people who bother to vote have a much better chance of getting their grievances addressed than people who don’t vote.  Old people vote. Period. 

I can’t think of an issue that will bring together people of different political stripes more quickly and more completely than the idea of cutting Social Security benefits to current recipients.  That’s idiotic. 

However, that doesn’t mean we simply will stay the course and hope it works out.  When President Reagan and his budget director David Stockman last “fixed” Social Security, they bought another 50 years of life for the program.  They knew it wasn’t permanent.  Their fix involved a long, slow progression that eventually pushed the age of full benefits from 65 to 67.  We’ll do the same thing and move the full retirement from age 67 to 69 or 70. 

We might increase the amount of income taxed for Social Security, but that’s just a disguised tax hike. 

A Possible Change for COLAs from CPI to NAWI

There is one other, more -underhanded thing the government might do.  Congress might change the basis for COLAs from the Consumer Price Index to the National Average Wage Index.  Over the last several decades, consumer prices have risen faster than wages.  Some have argued that Social Security adjustments are supposed to mimic our time at work, which would call for increasing benefits with wage inflation.  But there’s a problem.  Those adjustments are called cost-of-living- adjustments, not pretend-I’m-working- adjustments.  As the name implies and as Congress discussed when COLAs were codified, the goal was for benefits to keep pace with prices.  This doesn’t mean Congress won’t change the formula, just that it would be a rotten thing to do.  But hey, we’re still talking about Congress.  And what do they care?  Their pensions aren’t tied to Social Security, anyways. 

Written by Rodney Johnson                                                                                                                                                                 The Rodney Johnson Report

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Investment advisory services offered through Mutual Advisors, LLC DBA California Retirement Advisors, a SEC registered investment adviser. Securities offered through Mutual Securities, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Mutual Securities, Inc. and Mutual Advisors, LLC are affiliated companies. CA Insurance license #0B09076. The information presented is not to be considered advice you can or should act upon for investment, tax or estate planning purposes without consulting with a professional to discuss your own set of unique circumstances. This article is designed to provide you with information regarding investing and planning for or during retirement.  You must seek professional advice separately before acting on any items discussed in this article. The views expressed are those of Rodney Johnson and not necessarily reflect the views of Mutual Advisors, LLC or any of its affiliates. Rodney Johnson is not affiliated with Mutual Advisors, LLC or California Retirement Advisors.