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Ten Talking Points on Social Security

Ten Talking Points on Social Security

1. Social Security does not contribute to the US deficit, and by law it is not allowed to borrow to pay benefits. It has a surplus of $2.6 trillion (invested in U.S. Treasury securities), which is projected to increase to $4.2 trillion by 2025. Changing Social Security now, therefore, will not reduce the federal deficit or the national debt. [1]

2. Social Security is not in crisis. It is projected that Social Security will be able to pay all benefits in full through 2036, and 75 to 78 percent of scheduled benefits in 2037 and beyond. Social Security will never run out of money because it is supported by current workers.

3. Social Security does have a long-term funding gap, if we want to keep benefits at 100 percent after 2036. But cutting benefits is not necessary to close the gap; it could easily be eliminated by enacting any one of a number of revenue-enhancing mechanisms. For example, one report shows that getting rid of the cap on the amount of wages subject to the payroll tax (currently set at $106,800), so that higher income Americans pay more, would eliminate all or most of the projected shortfall over the next 75 years, depending on how the change is implemented.

4. It is vitally important to beneficiaries, especially women, that benefits not be cut. Women rely more on Social Security than do men, often as their only source of income in retirement. Unlike most retirement income sources, it is life-long and is fully adjusted for inflation.[2]

5. The average annual income from Social Security for women between the ages of 65 and 74 is about $10,300, compared with about $13,400 for men in the same age group. Many beneficiaries simply cannot afford benefit cuts.[3]

6. Raising the retirement age is a benefit cut. Social Security’s full retirement age has been gradually increasing from age 65 to 67 for individuals born after 1960; currently, workers qualify for unreduced retirement benefits at the age of 66. Any increase in the retirement age reduces the benefits that individuals receive. For example, if your benefit at age 67 would have been $1,000 per month and Congress raises the retirement age to 68, then you will need to wait an additional year to collect $1,000 per month. In addition, if you retire at age 67, you will not receive $1,000 per month, as you would under current law. Instead, you will receive a benefit of just $933 per month.


7. Raising the retirement age hurts workers who perform physically demanding labor. Workers with physically demanding jobs may be unable to work well into their 60s or have trouble finding employment, forcing them to retire before their full retirement age. Increasing the retirement age, therefore, is a problematic way to close Social Security’s long-term funding gap.


8. Means-testing for Social Security, which is portrayed as a way to cut benefits only for the well-to-do, in fact would cut benefits for the middle class.


9. Social Security is an efficient income insurance system that is a crucial form of support to nearly 53 million people in the United States, including 36 million retired workers and their family members (69.3 percent of beneficiaries), 10 million disabled workers and their families (18.5 percent of beneficiaries), and 6.5 million survivors of deceased workers (12.2 percent of all beneficiaries). Fifty-seven percent (21 million) of all beneficiaries aged 65 and older are women.


10. The President’s fiscal commission issued a proposal in November 2010 to reduce the national debt that would have included draconian cuts to Social Security. While their proposal failed to obtain the 14 endorsements necessary for the plan to be sent to Congress for a vote, the commission’s recommendations continue to remain the subject of political discussion and debate. A group of Senators, led by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA),has come together to press for congressional action that would implement some of their recommendations. Moving forward with the commission’s recommended cuts to Social Security would be deeply problematic for millions of beneficiaries of the program.

[1] Social Security Trustees. 2010. "The 2010 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds."

<> (November 10, 2010).Table VI. F8.

[2] Heidi Hartmann and Ashley English, "Older Women's Retirement Security: A Primer," Journal of Women, Politics, and Policy 30 (2009): 109-140.

[3] Heidi Hartmann, Jeff Hayes, and Robert Drago, Social Security Especially Vital to Women and People of Color, Men Increasingly Reliant, Report #D494, Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2010.

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