The current Chief Actuary of Social Security is Stephen Goss and on the occasion of the publication of the 75th Anniversary issue of the Social Security Bulletin he contributed what may be the most valuable single piece you will ever read on Social Security financials. The article carried the title The Future Financial Status of the Social Security Program The abstract/teaser for the article starts out with this:
The concepts of solvency, sustainability, and budget impact are common in discussions of Social Security, but are not well understood.
To which I can only add “Boy Howdy!”
Steve is perhaps best associated with the concept of ‘Sustainable Solvency’ which he describes as follows:
Sustainable solvency requires both that the trust fund be positive throughout the 75-year projection period and that the level of trust fund reserves at the end of the period be stable or rising as a percentage of the annual cost of the program.
Well this requires some unpacking. Under current law the Social Security Trust Funds are considered ‘solvent’ if they have a Trust Fund balance equalling 100% of the next years cost at the end of a given actuarial period. Stronger versions of this would require that the Trust Fund meet this standard in every year of the period and/or that it be trending upwards at the end. That is Steve’s “stable or rising”. Well all that is reasonable enough, but what would it look like under standard budget scoring? Well the answer is either “kind of odd” or “mind-bending”. Which will be explored under the fold.