Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hillary Clinton's Plan for Social Security

Faced with increasing pressure from Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination, the Clinton camp has recently found it necessary to finally address the issue of Social Security, a topic widely discussed by Senator Sanders. We've written at length about the issues facing Social Security, as well as the flaws in Bernie Sanders' well-intentioned plan for revitalizing this program, upon which so seniors widely rely.

Ms. Clinton's proposal, however, not only lacks substance, but credibility. After all, in previous mention of the topic, her comments have been limited to "don't touch it". Then, as now, not touching Social Security puts us on a path to the program's demise. This is not our view, but that of the Trustees of the Social Security Administration. And lest you believe as Ms. Clinton proclaims that the whole idea of Social Security insolvency is a myth promoted by the GOP, consider that the Trustees of the Social Security Administration, the same ones attempting to alert the public to the impending disaster, are all Obama appointees - and all Democrats.

Clinton's plan to fix Social Security is, first, to kill the notion of privatizing the system. Well, she may be right about this, but killing a proposal hardly provides a fix. Second, she'd "consider" raising the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax (currently $118,500 per year). Lastly, she'd like to make some sort of adjustment for women, seeing that women often work less years than men, and therefore accrue less Social Security benefits. And, sorry folks, that's about it.

Just to recast the problem, quoting the 2015 report of the Social Security Administration, the present value deficit of the Social Security Trust Fund, in other words, the difference between what is projected to be paid in benefits and what is expected to be gathered in taxes and investment income, is roughly $10 trillion. Removing the cap on wages alone (which goes somewhat beyond what the candidate has proposed) is a relative drop in the bucket. And this is the only aspect of her plan that can actually be quantified.

Here's the basic problem. With an aging society and demographic imbalances, the current level of tax and earnings will only float the Trust Fund until 2034, or roughly another 20 years. After that, benefits, already meager, would have to be reduced by a third. Now here's the tough part, There are only two possible solutions for addressing this crisis: either increase taxes, or cut benefits, or provide some combination of the two. The subtlety comes in how this is done. How do you raise taxes fairly and keep from cutting benefits to those who need them the most? For this, we've previously provided our views, available here.