Why do I say this? Well, for starters, we have a tug-of-war between Republicans and Democrats in Washington D.C. Republicans generally talk about how reform is needed, but they focus on privatizing the program, and in the end, certainly reducing its value to senior citizens. The Democrats vigorously defend the program as is, fearing any offer of adjustment will be misinterpreted as anti-Social Security with a political price that will be paid at the next election. Put another way, Social Security is the third rail, the one that can kill you, in this case politically.
Here is how I see it from my limited mathematical skills. Early in the history of the Social Security Program there were many more workers contributing to the program than there were retirees benefitting. That, I believe, is generally understood. It is also true that the balance between workers and retirees has dramatically shifted and will continue to do so as we are tending to live longer and longer lives. Families are smaller and relatively speaking there are fewer workers paying into social security.
This shifting balance is not a totally new phenomenon. In the 1980’s, when work could get done across party lines, Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill and Republican President Reagan worked together to make adjustments that extended the life of the program. That is not the environment today and, consequently, my concerns about the future escalate. Obviously, any change will face stern opposition. What the Democrats need to understand is that the opponents to social security win by doing nothing. And for now they tend to win easily because the Dems see only scarry results from taking any action.
For me as a realist, I think a couple of what would seem to be modest changes, could really extend the life of the Social Security program before it is too late. Taxing a higher income number and making modest eligibility adjustments would, for now and sometime into the future, get the job done. This is what was done in the 80's. The problem is that making any changes requires going back to a time when doing right was more important than a political chess move.
Bottom line, the good news is that we, in general, are living much longer. The bad news is it could be accompanied by the end of Social Security as we know it for millions who will desperately need it.