Social Security mostly accomplishes the purposes for which it was established and which make it politically popular: guaranteeing income security for the elderly and for disabled workers. The poverty rate for elderly Americans in 2017 was 9.2 percent, compared with 11.2 percent of people ages 18 to 64 and 17.5 percent of children.
Consumers’ confidence in the adequacy of future retirement income is at a 20-year high, according to a respected University of Michigan survey. Yes, Social Security spending is a major factor in the United States’ structural budget problem, and its trust fund will be exhausted by 2034. A fix is needed. But Social Security is not broken — and does not require a radical overhaul.
Yet hundreds of congressional Democrats have recently announced their support for a pretty sweeping reform. As its title implies, the Social Security 2100 Act would guarantee the trust fund’s solvency for the next 75 years. And it would do so while making the program considerably more generous to all participants, present and future: It would provide an across-the-board increase in basic benefits, including a guaranteed minimum 25 percent above the poverty line, an enhanced cost-of-living allowance and a reduction in the taxation of benefits by raising the income threshold at which the levy applies.
Laudably, the plan tackles two important goals: long-term solvency and the lingering problem of old-age poverty. Less laudably, it does so while diverting scarce resources toward a vast majority of Social Security recipients who are not only not poor but, in many cases, perfectly comfortable. We are all for making the overall tax system more progressive than it already is, including by taxing high earners, as the Social Security 2100 Act would do. You can tap “the rich” only so many times, however; and the priority should be to use that money for children, who are almost twice as likely to be poor as are senior citizens.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST