That’s the headline and lede…where are the interesting parts?

by Reader Jack

From the NY Times yesterday:
“Social Security to See Payout Exceed Pay-In This Year”

That’s the headline.

The interesting parts are buried deep. In the print edition one has to go not just below the fold, but to the inside pages to find the meat of the story. Superficially it would appear the the Times is reporting new and dramatic findings, but the article soon makes it quite clear that while current benefits are beginning to out pace payroll (FICA)taxes those outlays are still not a deficit because of the interest earned yearly by the Trust Fund.

“For accounting purposes, the system’s accumulated revenue is placed in Treasury securities. In a year like this, the paper gains from the nterest earned on the securities will more than cover the difference between what it takes in and pays out. Mr. Goss, the actuary, emphasized that even the $29 billion shortfall projected for this year was small, relative to the roughly $700 billion that would flow in and out of the system. The system, he added, has a balance of about $2.5 trillion that will take decades to deplete. Mr. Goss said that large cushion could start to grow again if the economy recovers briskly.”

And why the panicky lede when again deeper into the body of the story we find there are no surprises and things are goiong as expected for the past three decades.

“Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office’s projection shows the ravages of the recession easing in the next few years, with small surpluses reappearing briefly in 2014 and 2015. After that, demographic forces are expected to overtake the fund, as more and more baby boomers leave the work force, stop paying into the program and start collecting their benefits. At that point, outlays will exceed revenue every year, no matter how well the economy performs.”

And best of all, one might surmise from the lede and first several paragraphs that it’s Social Security that is bringing the economy to ruins. But again we read deep and what to find?

“The United States’ soaring debt — propelled by tax cuts, wars and large expenditures to help banks and the housing market — has become a hot issue as Democrats gauge their vulnerability in the coming elections. President Obama has appointed a bipartisan commission to examine the debt problem, including Social Security, and make recommendations on how to trim the nation’s debt by Dec. 1, a few weeks after the midterm Congressional elections.”

Of course in spite of the actual causes of our government’s deficit “problems,” if they can be truly deemed as problems, the Times can only find one basis for economic survival. Take it out of the hides of the formerl;y working stiffs.

“The long-term costs of Social Security present further problems for politicians, who are already struggling over how to reduce the nation’s debt. The national predicament echoes that of many European governments, which are facing market pressure to re-examine their commitments to generous pensions over extended retirements.”

Note the tell tale reference for what drives all decision making these days, “facing market pressure.” And true to their often hyperbolic approach, the link for the term “facing market pressure” brings the reader to this scary article and photo. (see link)

What more need be said? There is no emergency as the full article makes clear, but the implied disasture is fast upon us if one ignores the facts provided. The Times does know how to skirt an issue and walk both sides of the fence. One can only hope that Keller and Sulzberger slip and that the fence posts catch them where it hurts.
by Reader Jack