Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes this year, the first big milestone on the road to its eventual insolvency. Thanks to a surge in benefits and a collapse in paychecks, this plunge into the red comes 6 years faster than the most recent CBO estimate predicted (It had been 2016).
The CBO has yet to update its estimate of the date at which the program will burn through its “surplus” and go completely bust (currently 2037), but given that the deficit arrived 6 years sooner than the estimate the CBO made only a year ago, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a startling revision there, too.
This year’s deficit won’t hurt this year’s benefits, because the $2.5 trillion surplus Social Security has accumulated since the 1980s has been lent back to the government in the form of Treasury bonds, which earn interest. And, this year, anyway, the interest payments will cover the revenue shortfall.
(Confused? You should be. Your tax dollars are paying for the interest on those Treasury bonds. So, effectively, you’re already bailing out Social Security. Or your children are.).
Over the long haul, however, Social Security’s financial health is headed in only one direction: Down. This will eventually force either a hike in taxes or a cut in benefits. And based on recent trends, that date may come a lot sooner than people think.
Here’s an excellent graphic from the New York Times showing the difference between last year’s CBO estimate and this year’s:
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