Social Security provides retirement income and survivor benefits and also protects disabled Americans at all ages. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, almost 58 million people received some sort of Social Security benefit in 2013. Owing to the baby boomers becoming eligible to draw Social Security and for a longer period of time as longevity increases, there is an extra load on Social Security funds, such that we need to address sustaining funds for future generations. However, as an essentially self-financed program Social Security should never be put on the chopping block for reducing the federal deficit. Social Security should be considered separately from the rest of the budget -- it is solvent for a generation to come and can be strengthened by very minor and gradual adjustments that would not affect current beneficiaries.
Some general principles for improving and extending Social Security for future generations include:
Benefit increases should be on the table for Americans who need them the most -- the very old and others who are at risk of living in poverty. For over 75 years, the Social Security program has been credited with lifting generations out of poverty.
Beneficiaries depend on accurate cost of living adjustments -- they should not be cut in the name of deficit reduction.
There should be greater incentives for workers to extend their work lives where possible and also incentives for employers to hire and retain older workers, e.g. making Medicare the primary insurer for workers past age 65.
Payroll contributions for Social Security could be made more adequate by gradually increasing the wage base to cover 90% of total wages, a strategy that would not affect most middle class taxpayers.
Lawmakers will have to make changes to bring the system back into balance, while resisting efforts to privatize Social Security. It is a public policy priority to keep Social Security on a sustainable path without sacrificing the key features of the program.