Publications on Social Security
Working Paper No. 1042 | February 2024For more than 25 years, the Social Security Trust Fund was projected to run out of money in 2033 (give or take a few years), potentially causing benefits to be severely reduced in the absence of corrective legislative action. Today (February 2024), projections are made by the Social Security Administration that indicate that future benefits will need to be reduced by roughly 25 percent or taxes will need to be increased by about 33 percent, or some combination to avoid benefit curtailment. While Congress will most probably prevent benefits from being reduced for retirees and those nearing retirement, the longer Congress and the president take to address the shortfall, the more politically unpalatable (and possibly draconian) the solutions will be for all others.
Dozens of proposals are being evaluated to address the long-term problem by mainstream benefits experts, economists, think tanks, politicians, and government agencies but, with rare exceptions from a few economists, none address the short-term problem of Trust Fund depletion, provide a workable roadmap for the long-term challenges, or consider fundamental financing differences between the federal government and the private sector.
This paper aims to address these issues by suggesting legislative changes that will protect the Social Security system indefinitely, help ensure the adequacy of benefits for retirees and their survivors and dependents, and remove confusing and misleading legislative and administrative complexity. In making recommendations, this paper will demonstrate that the Social Security Trust Funds, while legally distinct, are essentially an artificial accounting contrivance within the US Treasury that have become a tool to force program changes that, for ideological reasons, will likely shift an increasing financial burden onto those who can least bear it. Finally, while the focus of this paper is on the Social Security system, it would be incomplete without also addressing, albeit in a limited way, the larger political issue of the nation’s debt and deficit along with the implications for inflation.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Edward Lane
Working Paper No. 1018 | April 2023
How to Deal with the “Demographic Time Bomb”The aging of the global population is in the headlines following a report that China’s population fell as deaths surpassed births. Pundits worry that a declining Chinese workforce means trouble for other economies that have come to rely on China’s exports. France is pushing through an increase of the retirement age in the face of what is called a demographic “time bomb” facing rich nations, created by rising longevity and low birthrates. As we approach the debt limit in the US, while President Biden has promised to protect Social Security, many have returned to the argument that the program is financially unsustainable. This paper argues that most of the discussion and policy solutions proposed surrounding aging of populations are misfocused on supposed financial challenges when they should be directed toward the challenges facing resource provision. From the resource perspective, the burden of caring for tomorrow’s seniors seems far less challenging. Indeed, falling fertility rates and an end to global population growth should be welcomed. With fewer children and longer lives, investment in the workers of the future will ensure growth of productivity that will provide the resources necessary to support a higher ratio of retirees to those of working age. Global population growth will peak and turn negative, reducing demands on earth’s biosphere and making it easier to transition to environmental sustainability. Rather than facing a demographic “time bomb,” we can welcome the transition to a mature-aged profile.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2017/3 | July 2017
Because Healthcare Is Not InsurableThe growing political momentum for a universal single-payer healthcare program in the United States is due in part to Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However, according to Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, it is Obamacare’s successes and its failures that have boosted support for a single-payer system. Even after Obamacare, the US healthcare system still has significant gaps in coverage—all while facing the highest healthcare bill in the world. In this policy note, Wray argues that the underlying challenge for a system based on private, for-profit insurance is that basic healthcare is not an insurable expense. It is time to abandon the current, overly complex and expensive payments system and reconsider single payer for all. Social Security and Medicare provide a model for reform.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 39 | July 2013Comprehensive immigration reform has long eluded Congress. Although the Senate recently passed a bill—S. 744, or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act—that would take significant steps toward comprehensive reform, it is currently being held up in the Republican-controlled House. The sticking point? The “path to citizenship” provision for undocumented immigrants included in the Senate bill. Yet legalizing a significant proportion of the undocumented immigrant population would not impose serious costs on either the economy in general or the social insurance system in particular. On the contrary: maintaining the status quo would be economically wasteful.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Selçuk Eren
Working Paper No. 689 | October 2011
Immigration is having an increasingly important effect on the social insurance system in the United States. On the one hand, eligible legal immigrants have the right to eventually receive pension benefits but also rely on other aspects of the social insurance system such as health care, disability, unemployment insurance, and welfare programs, while most of their savings have direct positive effects on the domestic economy. On the other hand, most undocumented immigrants contribute to the system through taxed wages but are not eligible for these programs unless they attain legal status, and a large proportion of their savings translates into remittances that have no direct effects on the domestic economy. Moreover, a significant percentage of immigrants migrate back to their countries of origin after a relatively short period of time, and their savings while in the United States are predominantly in the form of remittances. Therefore, any analysis that tries to understand the impact of immigrant workers on the overall system has to take into account the decisions and events these individuals face throughout their lives, as well as the use of the government programs they are entitled to. We propose a life-cycle Overlapping Generations (OLG) model in a general equilibrium framework of legal and undocumented immigrants’ decisions regarding consumption, savings, labor supply, and program participation to analyze their role in the financial sustainability of the system. Our analysis of the effects of potential policy changes, such as giving some undocumented immigrants legal status, shows increases in capital stock, output, consumption, labor productivity, and overall welfare. The effects are relatively small in percentage terms but considerable given the size of our economy.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Selçuk Eren Hugo Benítez-Silva Eva Cárceles-Poveda
One-Pager No. 9 | May 2011
The slow recovery of the job market after the recessions of 2001 and 2007–09 has fostered concerns that the link between output growth and job creation has been severed. Between 2000 and 2010, the employment rate for males plunged from 71.9 to 63.7 percent—a decline that can be accounted for almost entirely by a fall in the employment rate for the disabled members of this group.
Research Scholar Greg Hannsgen examines whether the Great Recession disproportionately affected the job prospects of disabled workers, and whether the long-run fall in employment among the disabled can be blamed largely on the design of Social Security disability insurance. His findings? At least since 2008, the ongoing fall in the probability of being employed has strongly affected the job prospects of both the disabled and the nondisabled, and the accelerated declines since 2007 hint at an important, and negative, role for the recent recession. Hence, a government jobs initiative such as an employer-of-last-resort program, and not just long-term improvements in entitlement programs, is still very much apropos.