Social Security is the oldest and most popular federal income support program, and after more than 80 years, it might seem as permanent as the pyramids. But the pharaohs did better long-range engineering than the architects of the New Deal did. A 2015 Gallup Poll found that 64 percent of millennials don’t think the program will be able to pay benefits when they retire. The other 36 percent may not have been paying attention. The doubts are similar among those in the 30-to-49 age range.
The fearful ones have good reason to be concerned. Right now, the program provides retirement and survivors’ benefits to some 50 million people. Every year since 2010, Social Security revenues, excluding interest earned, have been lower than payouts, and things promise to get worse. Last week, the system’s board of trustees reported that it is still on track to insolvency.
In the past year, the program’s unfunded liabilities have grown from $11.4 trillion to $12.5 trillion. Given current trends, the Social Security retirement fund is expected to run out of money in 2034, a mere 17 years from now. The very modest good news is that’s the same year it was expected to run out in last year’s report. We’re moving, but the cliff we’re headed for is not.