Social Security Trustees Update 2020 Report To Include Effects of Covid Recession
Reader and poster Dale Coberly updating Angry Bear readers on recent Social Security findings in the 2020 report. Reader Bruce Krasting had alerted Angry Bear to the publication by the Social Security Trustees of a “revised baseline” that includes effects of the Covid recession on their projections otherwise from the 2020 Trustees Report. “Updated Baseline for Actuarial Status of the OASI and DI Trust Funds, Reflecting Pandemic and
The Trustees have better information than I have and assumed a lower unemployment rate with effects of the recession lasting over several years, but returning to “normal” by the year 2029. Their new projections bring the Trust Fund exhaustion date one year closer, but the ultimate 75 year deficit remains at about 4% of payroll.
Using their revised baseline, and attendant projected changes in some of the parameters they use for their projections, I was able to replicate their calculations, giving me confidence that my own findings regarding necessary payroll tax changes are consistent with their projections.
The necessary payroll tax changes amount to an average tax increase of less than one tenth of one percent (each) per year. This is different from my pre-covid findings only in that the tax increases would need to be a bit larger in the first years than previously estimated.
I suggest (there are other possibilities…which all amount to the same thing in the end, except for the politics) that a tax increase of two tenths of one percent of payroll (about two bucks per week for the average worker) for the next three years, followed by a similar increase at longer intervals over the actuarial window. This means that instead of raising the tax two bucks per week every year, it would become necessary to raise it only every other year, then every three or four years, and so on, until about once in ten years … and then none at all.
The reason for the accelerated tax increases is to avoid a projection of “short term financial inadequacy,” which would amount to nothing serious, but would be the excuse for the bad guys to foment hysteria crying “Social Security is broke.”
Krasting also pointed out to us a report by SSA showing the actual tax income to Social Security for 2019 and 2020. This showed an increase in income for 2020 compared to 2019… which is counterintuitive given the recession and the Trustees own revised baseline showing a decrease in income (as we would expect) due to the recession.
So far, I don’t know what to make of this and cannot find the SSA income report on line.
Some people appear to think that an increase of the Social Security “tax” would be unfair and a terrible burden on the poor. It is not and would not be. SS is not welfare. It is a way for working people to save “at least enough” for their own retirement protected from “the market” and insured against their own personal bad luck…including a lifetime of wages too low for them to save enough to allow them to retire in reasonable comfort.
Social Security “works” because it is not welfare. It was Roosevelt’s genius that “put that tax in there so no damn politician can take it away from them.”
Roosevelt did not reckon with the persistence of damn politicians or the forgetfulness of workers (and the people who claim to represent them). Two dollars per week is not a burden out of an income of 50 thousand dollars per year. (A person making only 25 thousand per year would see a tax increase of only one dollar per week. And he would get this money back with interest.. in his case a lot of interest . . . when he will need it most.
Those who want to “expand” Social Security by taxing the rich need to try to understand what Roosevelt did.
If there are people who need more help than SS now provides, they should look to SSI or other programs (welfare) for that help. Or agree to pay for it themselves. SS is not really a “tax”, though it is called that. It is workers paying for their own needs. An increase in the payroll tax of another two percent would provide about a twenty percent increase in benefits.
Meanwhile the two tenths percent per year increase actually solves the SS actuarial deficit 100%, while the plans put forth by both Republicans and Democrats look like they were designed to NOT solve the deficit, while creating more enemies for SS, or leaving worker with inadequate retirement insurance.
Beyond fixing the SS acturial deficit, the best way for workers to improve their income both while working and in retirement would be with a minimum wage that is a living wage. This is doable if the politicians and “defenders of Social Security” would put their effort into that instead of trying to create welfare for all people, for all seasons, for all reasons.
While the bad guys are trying to destroy income security for workers for their own reasons.
The big threat to Social Security now is the “payroll tax holiday.” It’s as if the man in the suit talked you into taking your retirement savings and buying a new car, or a sure thing on the market.
Run, Coberly, et al,
Thanks. This is a really big deal, the crowned jewel of the New Deal. We should really be expanding benefit amounts for retirees meeting the full benefits age rather than reducing benefit amounts while the tax rate should increase, but the cap should also be lifted again. For most workers living hand to mouth then voluntary deferred compensation is a non-starter.
This is Coberly’s post and not mine.
A dollar per week is not going to be felt by even the lowest wage worker.
Because of the match from the employer, the interest that comes automatically from growth in the economy and inflation adjustment due to “pay as you go” financing, and the doubling of that interest due to Social Security’s built in “break” points in benefit computation..
this is the best way to provide that “hand to mouth” worker with an income he can live on in retirement…
if for whatever reason SS is still not enough, the answer is SSI or other welfare.
But welfare for all by making the rich pay for SS will just guarantee that the rich will find a way to kill Social Security entirely.
and then what will your hand to mouth worker live on? returns from the stock market?
There is a real trade off between reduced income from the economy and reduced expenditure from increased deaths which is worsening this winter. Not sure we will know the effect until later when we see how bad it becomes.
again, i suggest it is better to work on a living minimum wage than to go for a self defeating “tax the rich” solution to paying for worker retirement
Roosevelt understood this. Even his Economic Security Commission (nominally the very smart people who designed Social Security) did not. Roosevelt had to intervene at the last minute to keep SS from become “the dole.”
of course we are not sure, but I just told you what the Trustees think, and they are the ones whose job it is to tell us.The same people who make the projections the Big Liars use to say every year for the past twenty that I have been counting: “SS is broke! Flat bust!” Actually it’s not the Trustees who make the projections, but the actuaries. The Trustees are appointed politicians who lie about them like everyone else.
as for me, let me point out that so far there have been about 250,000 deaths from Covid. There are about 50 million people receiving benefits.
Meanwhile the unemployment rate, and the reduction in average earnings amount to about 15% of payroll.
Do the math. The Impressionist school of public accounting: “I think it, therefore it is.”
i should have included the link to the updated report
note table 2. entries for 2020 change in avg wage and change in total employment. combined they show about a 10% reduction in total payroll.
The link is in the first paragraph of your post. I updated your post.
looks like i made a mistake. Trustees Report gives death rate for people over 65 as 4,000 per 100,000. That would make, all things being equal, the death rate for a hundred million be 4 million… or 2million for 50 million. 2 million is 8 times 250 thousand … so covid deaths might be 12% of normal death rate, putting the death rate in the ballpark of the decline in payroll due to the recession…if all the deaths are social security recipients.
looks like you were right.
on the other hand that result is not consistent with the cost rate given in table 1 of the updated base report.
oh, well. I report. You decide.
it’s been a tough year.
hint. the saving rate is not the percent of new deaths to normal deaths but the percent of excess deaths to the whole cost of the program.
I knew that already. I was waiting for you to get there.
i got there first. you should have stopped me while i was ahead.
it’s those damn typos. sometimes they go on for pages and hours.
i should quit this game before i lose all my hard earned credibility.
but no one seems to want to take my place.
BK sent a note that comments wouldn’t let him post….I apologized and am looking into it. Dan
COVID-19 Social Security Disaster Looms For Anyone Born In 1960
This came up on C & L today and is talking about Covid causing a significant SS monthly benefit reduction due to lost earnings for 2020. I looked and SS talks about earning over 35 years determining SS monthly payments.
“Many people wonder how we figure their Social Security retirement benefit. We base Social Security benefits on your lifetime earnings. We adjust or “index” your actual earnings to account for changes in average wages since the year the earnings were received. Then, Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most. We apply a formula to these earnings and arrive at your basic benefit, or “primary insurance amount.” This is how much you would receive at your full retirement age — 65 or older, depending on your date of birth.”
Your Retirement Benefit: How It’s figured (ssa.gov)
certainly not causing a near term reduction in benefits. potentially will hasten slightly the date when benefits are reduced because the people and the congress are too stupid to raise the payroll tax a dollar per week until the system is back in balance. the dollar per week won’t be noticeable to anyone except the Big Liars, who know exactly what it means: Social Security is NOT going broke, and a few “progressives” who think an extra dollar per week is a crushing burden on the poor. These people have no number sense at all, so they live in a world of nightmare perspective.
Working from the age of 22 onward for 35 years of the highest or most earnings would workout to be EOY 57 and anything past that would just be an adder to monthly benefits if higher. I do not understand why Nancy Altman would be concerned with 1 or even 2 years? I had a couple of years of not paying in due to inability to get a viable job so I went to chipping wood, gaffing up tree, cutting grass, etc. I am at the upper end of SS benefits due to the years I did work and my annual salary when I was working.
i just looked at crooks and liars. i had forgotten about the “notch.” yes it looks like a bad deal and should be fixed, but i have to admit that it is not something i have looked at so i don’t have anything much to say about it.
i hope the word gets out and people call their congressmen. that should help.
but the rest of the article which advocates treating SS like welfare is pernicious nonsense. as i keep trying to tell everyone: if you make the rich pay for SS and turn it into welfare for all… you will end up with no SS at all.
SS is a way for people to save their own money, get decent “interest” and insurance against all sorts of bad things that can happen to them or their money… without risking it in “the market.” it has worked very well for over eighty years and people love it, even if they don’t understand it. The plan to destroy it involves stampeding the people into believing it is “broke” and can’t be fixed without turning it into a 401k or welfare as we knew it.
if there are people for whom their SS is not enough, there are welfare programs to make up the difference. SSI is one. SSI is NOT Social Security, but try explaining that to anyone.
I am with you.
i said people love it. so why are some people trying to destroy it. this has been a mystery for some time. but i have a few thoughts:
first: rich people don’t want poor people to be able to retire because they believe (as of a few years ago) that every person who does not retire adds 90 thousand dollars to the economy. this was when average wages were 40 thousand dollars per year. so who do you suppose gets the extra fifty thousand?
second: rich people don’t want workers to feel secure. they might quit their low paying job in order to find something better.
third: employers think they are paying for it. even though they say when it suits their purposes that “economists say the employers share is really the workers money. without SS the employers would be able to pay a higher wage,” they say among themselves, “it’s our signature on the check” and they are perfectly happy to call SS a “jobs killing tax.” it can’t be both. (yes, if they didn’t have to pay SS they could lower their wage costs, but if every one did this their customers would not have enough money to buy their products.. its a very old fallacy that thinks what is good for one is good for everyone. employers are like Trump: the sincerely believe that what is good for them in the short run is good for them in the long run. sometimes it is.)
fourth: some people are stupid. they just know they can do better with the money on their own than they get from SS. history shows that most of them are wrong. but just like those drivers who just know they are such good drivers they don’t need to obey traffic laws…
fifth: and those who are really stupid who think anything the people use their government for to make their lives better is “socialism” and that means slavery.
sixth: and there are really really stupid people who say anything that comes into their heads whether it makes any sense at all.. it’s usually a mishmash of what they have heard from the high end non partisan expert liars.
i put spaces in the above comment to make it easier to read. the website program took them out, because it knows better than I do.
Good idea on the spacing. Some important comments there.
nancy is a puzzlement. she wrote a good book about Social Security (“The battle to save Social Security” or something like that.) which explained very well the importance of SS being worker paid insurance and not “welfare.” Then she spoiled all by calling in her last chapter to “fix” Social Security by taxing the rich. I pointed this out to her. Now she won’t talk to me.
as for why she is concerned about one or two years, I think…no assurances I am right about this… what the “notch” does is calculate your adjusted earnings…adjusted to account for inflation and real growth in the economy…by comparing the average wage in the year you earned it (paid the tax) to the average wage in the year you turned sixty (i don’t know why they picked sixty.. that seems to me to reduce the effevtive interest on your “savings” for the last two or seven years you are paying in), then it multiplies each year of your earnings by that ratio and adds the 35 best years together and divides that by the number of months in 35 years to get an average ajusted wage to fit into their benefit formula. it all works out in the end to get you an effective interest rate of about 5%…which covers about 3% inflation and 2% real growth.. this is better than most people can get in safe savings, but not as good as they MIGHT get from the stock marget or investing in their own business. “might” is the operative word here. most people don’t do that ell and can’t afford the risk.
in fact when SS was first invented, people who sold annuities hated it because they thought it would hurt thei business. turned out they learned to love it becuse with the protection of SS safety net, people were more willing to invest in risky plans to enhance their ultimate retirement income. this is exactly what busineses do…protect some of their money with low risk invetments while going for profits with higher risk investments. but for some reason they hate the idea of poor people doing the same thing. so they tell them lies.
point here..which i got away from.. is tha notch lowers the effective interest “earned” by your SS savings and so lowers your benefit for your entire retirement. This is n’t much different from having a bad year on the stock market the year you retire (if you cash out all your investments to buy an annuity). but the government can afford to not cash out YOUR retirement “investment” and just let the next recovery make you (and the Trust fund) whole.
This should be the basis of the “fix” but it sounds like Larson is going to spoil it by trying to ty it to “expanding” benefits…without any way to pay for expanded benefits (in many cases to people who never paid into SS in the first place) without taxing the rich…and by magic accomplishing what the Liars have been saying all along… turning SS int welfare AND a drain on the budget.
i don’t have the time to write for crooks and liars. would it help if you posted a comment there, directing people to Angry Bear?
I was born in 1960. From what I read, Larson’s current bill will fix the notch without doing everything he wants. He plans another bill (that coberly does not like).
I hope so. Crooks and liars seemed to be saying he was attachng the expanded benefits to it. I don’t understand why people think they can load everything on to SS. if they want welfare just create a separate program.
Nancy Altman thinks FDR had plans to expand SS. He did, but not to turn it into welfare. he would have applied “worker pays” to heath care and unemployment and anywhere else the insurance model makes sense, but he was adament it not be “the dole” “so no damn politician can take it away from them.”
from crooks and liars
“With the year winding down legislatively, Larson is pushing to have his fix included in the year-end spending bill, along with an increase in benefits for Social Security recipients. “Some say we can’t afford to protect and expand Social Security now, during a global pandemic,” he writes in an op-ed in The Hill. “However, those most harmed by the pandemic—the elderly, people of color, and especially women of color—are the same ones who rely on Social Security the most, and they desperately need a temporary emergency benefit increase.”
this is actually not true…SS benefits are not affected for current retirees. if they have been doing okay on their benefit, they are still doing okay; better than the unemployed. the trouble with the Social Security Works crowd is that they see everything in terms of welfare…especially for all the identified victim groups. their thinking is not very different from that of the racist: everything melts into an emotional blur.
I looked up some numbers and did some math.
average and median wages since 1991:
A median earner in 2015 earned $29,930. In 2016, $30533. If we had begun our 0.1 percent increase in 2015 (and wages did not change), that would be an additional $29.93 in annual taxes out of an increase of $1,078. After 5 years it would be $171 out of and added $5,397 (which is 3.2 percent of the increase). Extrapolating to the 3.14 percent permanent fix in 2030, it would be 5 percent of a $13.4K wage increase.
Life expectancies can be found in downloadable tables here:
Cohort life expectancy is Table V.A5
The life expectancy of a male at age 65 in 1991 was 16.1 years. In 2019 it was 18.9 years. That is 15% increase in about one generation.
Following the NW Plan, our median worker (who ficticiously remains a median worker) needs to set aside 5 percent of his increased wages (not his total wages) to allow for continuing current scheduled benefits over a 15 percent longer life. That is a great deal. (It is still a good deal if you assume the employer manages to make him pay the full tax).
I note that even at median wage, he should also put part of his wage increase into an IRA.
Social Security does work and most people (as in more than 50 percent) like it. Politicians want to piggy back on success.
Bad idea. Load enough on and you will break the back.