Monday, August 25, 2008

Social Security more solvent than most Americans realize

Social Security is financially more sound than the federal government as a whole, that's what the numbers crunched by the actuaries at the Social Security Administration say.

Thanks to hikes in the Social Security payroll tax in the 1980s designed to create a surplus to handle the crunch of baby-boomer retirements, the program's trust fund is projected to grow steadily for nearly 20 more years — until 2027.

After that, officials estimate there will be sufficient money to pay 100 percent of benefits until 2041, when the surplus is expected to be exhausted. From that year on, payroll tax revenue alone should be able to meet 78 percent of the program's obligations — even if no changes are made.

That would mean substantially smaller checks — but a long way from nothing.

''I have no doubt that Social Security will be there for a couple generations,'' said Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York. ''Looking at the numbers right now, Social Security is one of the most financially sound programs that we have in the federal budget.''

The plan is on track to meet the needs of most baby boomers. In 2041, when Social Security trustees estimate the surplus will be exhausted, the oldest boomers will be 95 and the youngest, 77. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is optimistic the surplus will go a bit further. It projects that, without changes, Social Security will be able to meet its obligations in full until 2046.

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