What has been known for decades is coming to fruition: Social Security is a sucker's bet. (I've never understood why Social Security is regarded as the "crowning achievement" of the New Deal. And since Medicare is worse off than Social Security, we can expect even worse outcomes with that.)
"Future generations are going to do worse because either they are going to get fewer benefits or they are going to pay higher taxes," said Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury official who has studied the issue as a fellow at the Urban Institute.
The table below, taken from here, shows the miserable return people beginning with the baby boom generation can expect to earn.
And of course we can expect one of the biggest rent-seeking institutions to promote Social Security as a free lunch.
But returns alone don't fully explain the value of Social Security, which has features that aren't available in typical private-sector retirement plans, said David Certner, legislative policy director for AARP.
Spouses can get benefits even if they never earned wages. Children can get benefits if they have a working parent who dies. People who are too disabled to work can get benefits for life.
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"You are buying this lifetime inflation-protected benefit that you can never run out of and that will always be there for you," Certner said. "It protects your spouse, protects your family and protects you from disability."
That may be true, but there are plenty of lower cost means to most people of achieving this same objective.
And where are we headed?
Even with low tax rates, Social Security could afford to pay benefits in the early years because there were more workers paying the tax for each person receiving benefits than there are today. In 1960, there were 4.9 workers paying Social Security taxes for each person getting benefits. Today, there are about 2.8 workers for each beneficiary, a ratio that will drop to 1.9 workers by 2035, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office.
About 56 million people now collect Social Security benefits, and that number is projected to grow to 91 million in 2035. Monthly benefits average $1,235 for retired workers and $1,111 for disabled workers. Social Security provides most older Americans a majority of their income. About one-quarter of married couples and just under half of single retirees rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.