Despite Signs of Trouble, Social Security Reform Still Isn't a Pressing Issue

Despite Signs of Trouble, Social Security Reform Still Isn't a Pressing Issue

There may be some reasons to be optimistic about the future of Social Security, but Congress and the White House have avoided the issue.

Many Americans have been worried for years that Social Security won’t be there for them when they retire. A survey taken last July by Nationwide found that 71 percent of Americans are worried that the program will run out in their lifetime. 

Those fears got some new ammunition last fall, when the Social Security Trustees report revealed that Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund will only be able to pay out full benefits through 2033. That means that if no changes are made to the program’s funding formula, the program will have to begin paying out only 76 percent of benefits starting in 2034. That was a year earlier than what was reported the year before. 

This led many, especially those who won’t start collecting Social Security until long after the 2030s, to worry that Social Security will be gone by the time they retire. Others have indicated that Social Security is so popular that no politicians would want to be blamed for such a major cut in benefits. Representative John Larson (D-Conn.) has introduced legislation called Social Security 2100 that would push the dispersal date further into the future, but the proposal has not gained bipartisan support. 

In a piece in Forbes this week, author John F. Wasik made the case that Social Security will survive after all. 

“Well, if nothing is done to replenish the Social Security pot of money, [the depletion of the fund] is one scenario,” Wasik wrote. “But there are plenty of other scenarios since Congress can act to fully fund America’s most popular retirement program at any time.”

The author found some other positive notes in the Social Security Trustees report. For one, it anticipates a quick recovery from the pandemic. For another, three assumptions in the report, “higher fertility rate, slower mortality gains, and a lower unemployment rate,” also changed. 

He added that no private sector programs can compare to Social Security, and “people need it and are using it.” He went on to demand that readers contact their representatives and let them know the urgency of the matter. 

However, the Social Security issue has yet to surface as a major political issue. Larson has made his proposal, but it hasn’t been endorsed by the White House or embraced as a legislative priority. The Republican leadership has also not made a big deal about the scheduled dissipation in just over a decade, and there’s little indication that the future of Social Security will surface as a major issue either in the midterm elections or in the 2024 Presidential election. At some point before 2033, however, Washington will likely have to find a way to address the program’s future. 

 Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.