Social Security (SS) was born underfunded. Maybe I should have researched why the founders in 1935 thought 1% per year were adequate savings, but I didn't. However, as far back as I can remember, which goes into the 1960's, SS was in trouble and in need of rescue. The employee contribution rate went from 1% in 1935 to 7.65% since 1990.
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I remember the series of SS crises, as collections failed to keep up with current and projected pension demands. The Greenspan Commission in 1983 was supposed to fix SS for good. I guess politicians and voters bought the story, or maybe just felt that the taxes were as high as Americans could stomach, because the rates haven't been raised since the commission set the rate at 7.65%.
One thing that didn't happen was isolating the surpluses and making sure the money was available when the bulge of retirements started to tax the SS fund in the 2020's. This is where my research went off the rails. I expected to find that because there was no "lockbox" for the surpluses, they had been frittered away through tax cuts and deficit spending during the Bush II years. That's the Democratic narrative, anyhow.
What I found instead is that the SS trust fund never had a method of securing its surpluses. It always handed them over to the Treasury in return for IOU's. Unlike a normal pension plan, the SS trust fund not only didn't secure its surpluses, but it never invested them. It was always on the road to relying on US federal dollars for its own deficits when the baby boomers retired in droves.
The SS trust fund also funded most of our modest deficit spending for 3 decades. But starting in the 1980's, we ran significant extra deficits beyond that. So not only does the federal government owe the SS trust fund $2.6 trillion, but it owes non-government creditors nearly $10 trillion on top of that.
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One part of the Democratic narrative is correct. The SS payroll taxes were increased and that provided the federal government with ready money to fund extra spending and tax cuts and buy up yearly deficits, so that money was frittered away.
A more important truth is that, despite creating these surpluses, neither party in the 1980's had a plan that allowed the SS trust fund to use these surpluses. When you think of pension funds losing billions in hedge fund collapses, it's reassuring to know the SS trust fund isn't being used that way. But to find out that the money isn't even being stuffed in a mattress, that none of our top economists have ever figured out how to stash or invest or isolate or protect that much money, that is maddening.
All that time that I was being taxed, I was one of the many baby boomers who said "I'm not going to count on Social Security because it's not going to be there when I retire." However, finding out more of the mechanics now, it really hurts. OUUUUCCHH.
Even when the commission declared that the tax increases would keep the SS trust fund solvent in perpetuity, and it increased taxes ON ME and EVERYBODY to create much larger surpluses, THEY NEVER HAD A PLAN. Those surpluses were just thrown down the same rabbit hole. What the hell was that commission for? Why the f**k didn't the commission work on that part of the problem? My respect for Greenspan, which started dropping after he retracted his "irrational exuberance" comment and kept pumping up the bubble, just hit a new low. It's now tunneling its way to China. How appropriate.