It is almost impossible to figure out whether Social Security is tracking better or worse than projected using productivity or Real GDP, for one thing the data lags and moreover is subject to revision. But there is one measure that can be tracked with precision: Trust Fund cash balances which are reported to the penny by the Treasury Department with a one month lag. Which means that the June and hence mid-year Report is out. So how about some numbers?
The web page for all the Trust Fund Reports (including Medicare HI, Highways etc) is http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/tfmp/tfmp.htm For my purposes I just want to look at OAS (Old Age Survivors) and DI (Disability) the Reports themselves are found at the links below.
Our starting point as always is the Report in this case Table IV.A1.—Operations of the OASI Trust Fund, Calendar Years 2003-171 [Amounts in billions] and Table IV.A2.—Operations of the DI Trust Fund, Calendar Years 2003-171 [Amounts in billions]
Per IV.A1 the opening balance for OAS was $2.023 trillion, projected year end balance under Intermediate Cost $2.216, projected year end balance under Low Cost $2.221.
Per IV.A2 the opening balance for DI was $214 billion, projected year end under IC $218.7 billion, under LC $221.3 billion
We don’t even have to do the math, that same table shows that under IC the OAS balance was projected to increase by $192.4 billion, while under LC the number is $197.6. For DI the equivalent figures are IC $3.8 billion, LC $6.4 billion.
So what does Treasury tell us for a mid-year result?: OAS $2.140 trillion, DI $220 billion, for a total June 30 OASDI balance of $2.360 trillion.
Assuming for the moment that income generally comes in evenly between the first six months and the last six months (reasonable enough because it seems to divide seasonal effects pretty evenly (wage people, feel free to fill us in in comments)) how are we doing? Well OAS has gone up by $117 billion, DI up by $5 billion. Against a IC projection that would have OAS up by $96.2 billion and DI up by $1.9 billion against an LC projection that would have OAS up by $98.8 billion and DI up by $3.2 billion.
Well what does this mean? I am not sure, I was hoping you all could tell me. But it continues a pattern. Over the last decade DI has always lagged OAS in that its Trust Fund was projected to run out sooner, something that can be graphically in Figure IV.B3.—Long-Range OASI and DI Trust Fund Ratios [Assets as a percentage of annual expenditures], in the 2008 Report its date of Trust Fund depletion is projected at 2025 under IC. On the other hand look at the result under LC (outcome I).
Conclusion one. DI is smashing through projections just as it did in 2007. While combined OASDI came in modestly ahead of projections that year, all of that was due to DI, the weak Q4 having burned OAS quite badly (it was on track to break projections right through Sept). Conclusion two. OAS delivered 59% of its projected increase by June 30th, DI 263% against IC projections. Under LC projections the numbers work out the same for OAS at 59% and DI at 142%.
Conclusion last. Social Security seems to be weathering the current storm pretty well. If like 2007 we have a really rocky Q4 then the outlook might darken somewhat but for now things are looking good. (Please place math corrections in comments, Because I don’t doubt the possibility. Which is why I give the original links.)