Social Security Receipts, Outlays and Surplus 1940-2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2013

History 101

Social Security is going Bankrupt because of an Aging Population, Inflation and Untrustworthy Politicians

Social Security introduced the era of Big Government.  When the Roosevelt administration passed it into law it faced fierce opposition.  For it wasn’t the job of the federal government to provide a pension.  If it was the Founding Fathers would have included it in the Constitution.  But they didn’t.  Thanks to the Great Depression, though, a serious crisis FDR didn’t let go to waste, FDR was able to change America.  By taking the federal government beyond the limits of the Constitution.

The fear was that it would grow into a massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.  Which the FDR administration refuted in a 1936 pamphlet (see The 1936 Government Pamphlet on Social Security).

…beginning in 1949, twelve years from now, you and your employer will each pay 3 cents on each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year. That is the most you will ever pay.

Of course, that wasn’t true.  It was either a lie.  Or a disbelief that anyone would ever decouple the dollar from gold.  Or wishful thinking that we can trust politicians.  Whatever the reason the Social Security tax rate is a long way from that 3% today.  And the maximum earnings amount is a lot higher than $3,000.  But despite the tax rate and the maximum earnings amount soaring from these promised lows it’s still not enough.  For Social Security is struggling to avoid bankruptcy in the near future.  Because it has become a massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.

Social Security is suffering from three major problems.  The first is an aging population (fewer people entering the work force to pay for the greater number of people leaving the workforce).  The second is inflation.  And the third is that politicians manage it.  Who just can’t control themselves around big piles of money.

The Social Security Surplus increased in the Nineties thanks to the Peace Dividend, Japan’s Lost Decade and the Dot-Com Boom

Social Security is off-budget.  Employers and employees pay into the program to provide for the program’s benefits.  These are dedicated taxes.  They are only to pay for Social Security benefits.  That is why it is off-budget.  They don’t mingle Social Security taxes with all the other taxes the government collects.  To pay for all the things in the federal budget.  Technically, those taxes are supposed to go into a retirement account that grows with interest.  And this big, growing pile of money is supposed to pay the benefits.  But in reality it doesn’t work this way.  The government collects taxes.  From these taxes they pay current benefits.  And anything left over, the Social Security surplus, goes into the Social Security Trust Fund.  We can see this graphically if we plot receipts, outlays and the surplus (see Table 2.1—RECEIPTS BY SOURCE: 1934–2017 and Table 3.1—OUTLAYS BY SUPERFUNCTION AND FUNCTION: 1940–2017 at FISCAL YEAR 2013 HISTORICAL TABLES).

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1940-2012

For the first 30 years or so of this program it hardly made a dent in our lives.  Small amounts were going in.  Small amounts were going out.  And small amounts were going into the trust fund.  Then a lot of people started retiring.  Just as birth control and abortion changed the family size.  And President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Allowing them to print money like never before.  Which, of course, depreciated the dollar.  This is why receipts and outlays started trending up after 1971 (when Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold).  To get a better look let’s zoom in and look at the years from 1970-2012.

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1970-2012

The Seventies were a horrible time economically.  As the government went all in with Keynesian economics.  Which resulted with high inflation and high unemployment.  And stagnant economic growth.  Stagflation.  And Social Security was in trouble.  Receipts were greater than outlays.  But not by very much.  Receipts and outlays may have been trending up but the surplus was pretty flat.  Until President Reagan and the Democrat Congress fixed Social Security to avoid bankruptcy.  After 1983 receipts trended up greater than outlays.  Which caused the surplus to trend up.  Thus saving Social Security.  For awhile.  Now let’s zoom in further to the years 1990-2012 to see what happened in the last two decades.

Social Security Receipts Outlays Surplus 1990-2012

President Reagan won the Cold War by spending more on defense than the Soviets could ever match.  At least not without starving her people to death.  And the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars) was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  In 1991 the Soviet Union was no more.  Creating a huge peace dividend for President Clinton.  Which coincided with the dot-com boom.  And Japan’s Lost Decade (Japan’s economic woes were America’s prosperity).  Making the Nineties a very good time economically.  And that healthy economic activity translated into a nice uptrend in the Social Security surplus.  However, low interest rates and irrational exuberance fed the dot-com boom.  It was not real economic growth.  It was a bubble.  And when it burst it gave George W. Bush one painful recession at the start of his presidency.  Which was compounded by the tragedy of 9/11.  Causing a fall in economic activity.  Which caused Social Security receipts to fall.  While outlays continued to grow.  Causing a decline in the Social Security surplus.  Once again cuts in tax rates restored economic activity.  And the Social Security surplus.  Which continued until another bubble burst.  This one was a housing bubble.  Caused by President Clinton with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending.  Where his justice department pressured lenders to qualify the unqualified.  And when the housing bubble burst into the Subprime Mortgage Crisis giving us the Great Recession receipts fell while outlays increased.  Sending the surplus into a freefall.

Social Security is Doomed to Fail because you just can’t Trust Politicians around Great Big Piles of Money

There is both a Social Security tax rate.  And a maximum amount of income to tax.  Both of which they have had to increase to keep up with inflation.  To make up for that aging population.  And to offset the corrupting influence of politicians around big piles of money.  And contrary to that 1936 pamphlet those tax rates started rising early.  And often (see Historical Social Security Tax Rates).

Social Security Surplus and Tax Rate

The Social Security tax rate rose as high as 12.4%.  Which is a 313% increase from the maximum amount guaranteed in that 1936 pamphlet.  And this great upward trend began in the Fifties.  Continuing through the Sixties.  In fact most of the increases came before Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold.  Showing what a horrible job the government actuaries did in crunching the numbers for this program.  As it turned into exactly what the opponents said it would.  A massive program requiring more and more taxes to support it.  And President Obama reducing the tax rate from 12.4% to 10.4% didn’t help the surplus any.  Or the solvency of Social Security.

Social Security Surplus and Maximum Earnings

While the tax rate began rising in the Fifties the maximum taxable earnings amount didn’t.  This amount was pretty flat and able to produce a surplus until 1971.  When President Nixon unleashed the inflation monster by decoupling the dollar from gold.  And the only way to produce a surplus after that was by continuously increasing the maximum earnings amount.  Further proving what a horrible job the government actuaries did in crunching the numbers for this program.  But why are they projecting Social Security will go bankrupt after raising both the tax rate and the maximum taxable earnings amount?  For despite all of the ups and downs there has been a surplus throughout the life of the program.  Some seventy years of a surplus and the miracle of compound interest should have built up quite a nest egg in the Social Security Trust Fund.  But it hasn’t.  Why?  Well, we can see what it could have been.  If we take each year’s surplus (starting in 1940) and add it to an account earning interest compounded annually at an interest rate of 3% through 1971 and 6% after 1971 (to account for inflation) it would look something like this.

Social Security Surplus Earning Compound Interest

Note that these amounts are in millions of dollars.  So at the end of 2012 the ending balance in the trust fund would be $16.5 trillion.  Which is large enough to wipe out the entire federal debt.  From 1980 through 2008 the surplus grew on average 8% each year.  If we assume this growth through 2050 that would take the trust fund to $184.5 trillion.  In 2075 it would be $960.9 trillion.  In 2076 it would be $1.03 quadrillion.  Or $1,027.3 trillion.  With this phenomenal growth based on a realistic 6% interest rate why is Social Security going bankrupt?

Because there isn’t a big pile of money in the Social Security Trust Fund earning compound interest.  The money goes in.  And the government takes it out.  Leaving behind treasury securities.  IOUs.  They raid the Social Security trust fund to pay for other on-budget government expenditures.  With the off-budget surplus.  Hiding the true size of the federal deficit.  And putting Social Security on the path to bankruptcy.  Because you can’t loan money to yourself.  You can only take money meant for one thing and spend it on another.  Leaving that first thing unpaid.  This is Social Security.  And why it was doomed to fail from the beginning.  Because you just can’t trust politicians around great big piles of money.

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Off-Budget Social Security Surplus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 18th, 2013

Economics 101

Because we have Limited Income we Prioritize our Expenses

We all want more than we can afford.  We may want to drive a brand new Lincoln MKT but can only afford a used Focus.  So we drive a used Focus.  We may want to live on the beach in Southern California but can only afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Pasadena.  So we live in a 2-bedroom apartment in Pasadena.  We may want to dine on filet mignon and champagne every night but can only afford Hamburger Helper and a store-brand soda.  So we dine on Hamburger Helper and store-brand soda.

In life we have to make choices.  And live within our means.  So we budget our money. We list all our income.  And all of our expenses.  Breaking down the expenses in order of importance.  Rent is more important than cable television.  The electric bill is more important than stopping at Starbucks every morning for a Venti Caramel Macchiato.  The gas bill is more important than unlimited texting.  Because we have limited income we prioritize our expenses.  Those most important we budget to pay first.  Those less important we enjoy when we have some disposable income left over.  After paying everything that is more important first.

This is responsible living.  Which a lot of people do.  Live responsibly.  While some don’t.  And use credit cards to buy things they can’t afford.  Or they do a little work on the side ‘under the table’ for some extra spending cash.  Money they don’t report as income so they don’t have to pay income taxes on it.  Because like Billy Joel said you can pay Uncle Sam for the overtime.  Or not.  And a lot of people choose not.  Interestingly, a lot who do are die-hard Democrats who want to raise tax rates on the rich.  But when it comes to their hard-earned money they want to hide it from Uncle Sam.  But I digress.

Social Security Taxes are Dedicated for One Thing—Social Security Benefits

We can call money we earn on the side off-budget money.  We don’t add this money to our household budget.  It’s special money to spend on things we enjoy.  For if a husband does some plumbing work on the side his wife may want to use that money to pay down a credit card balance.  Or spend it on new window treatments.  While he may have other ideas for that money.  Maybe some new fishing equipment.  Or a new power tool.  Or maybe using it to go tailgating with the boys.  That money could buy a lot of food to barbecue.  And a lot of beer.  Things that are a lot of fun.  While paying down a credit card balance is not.  Just as window treatments are not.

So by keeping this money off-budget he can use it for what he originally intended it for.  Him having fun.  Keeping the money off the family budget prevents anyone from using those targeted funds for some other unintended purpose.  Preventing out of control spending growth on other less important things.  He is actually doing the family a favor by hiding this money.  Or so he rationalizes.  Because hiding it prevents his family from spending too much money.  For let’s face it if you have that additional money you’re going to budget it on something.  You may even commit to some long-term spending obligation.  Like buying a new Lincoln MKT.  Which will be a problem if the husband throws out his back doing all of those side jobs and goes on disability.

Another example of off-budget money is Social Security.  Specifically, the Social Security surplus.  Contrary to the government calling it a retirement investment it is not an investment.  The government collects Social Security tax revenue.  And pays Social Security benefits from that tax revenue.  What’s left over is the Social Security surplus.  (Until it becomes the Social Security deficit.)  And they put it into the Social Security Trust Fund.  Outside of the regular budget.  So they can’t spend it on other things.  And any budget negotiations won’t affect it.  For employers and employees pay into Social Security.  And this is the money we get back in benefits.  Those benefits are not budget items paid from all the other taxes the government collects.  That pay for things from defense spending to food stamps.  No.  Social Security taxes are dedicated for one thing.  Social Security benefits.  Which is why they moved it off-budget.

If the Deficit is Consistently Understated there will be no Money to Redeem the Securities in the Social Security Trust Fund

But that doesn’t stop the government from spending that money.  Just like so many unions have underfunded pension plans so, too, government can’t resist the allure of a great big pile of money.  Because it’s just sitting there.  Not being spent.  Something that just pains a politician to no end.  Unspent money.  But because it’s off-budget they just can’t spend it.  They have to borrow it first.  So the money goes into the Social Security Trust Fund.  They then remove the money from Social Security Trust Fund.  And leave behind an IOU.  Treasury securities.  Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.

So even though that money is dedicated for Social Security benefits and is strictly hands-off for other spending the government spends it on other things.  And it works out pretty well for the government.  Not only do they get a little extra money to spend it helps conceal the extent of their other spending.  For this off-budget money decreases the budget deficit.  Caused by all of that on-budget spending.  That far exceeds their ability to pay for it.  To illustrate that see the following table.  This is a very simplified fictional federal budget.  We have tax receipts.  And federal outlays.  Broken down into two general categories.  Guns and butter.  That’s defense spending.  And everything else.  Note how if they leave the Social Security surplus alone (without) there is a deficit of 47%.  But if they borrow that money (with) it reduces the deficit to 10%.

Social Security Surplus Off-Budget

When they talk about the budget deficit it includes the Social Security surplus.  That money is dedicated for one thing.  Social Security benefits.  They’re not suppose to use it for anything else.  So they shouldn’t count this revenue in the budget that pays for everything else.  When they do they understate the true budget deficit.  Worse, the money in the Social Security Trust Fund does not earn a return on investment.  Like with a 401(k).  Yes, there are Treasury securities in the trust fund.  But a government that is consistently understating their true deficit will never have the money to redeem those securities.  So they will do the only thing they can.  Print money.  Which is what they mean by the full faith and credit of the United States.  Print money.  Causing inflation.  And raising prices.  Making that meager Social Security benefit buy less.  Not to mention that Social Security itself will soon be insolvent.  Thanks to the growth in all of that other spending.  That is growing so great that they continually need to raid the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for it.

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Social Security Taxes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 14th, 2013

Economics 101

The Employer has to Write the Check to pay the Full Amount of Social Security Taxes

Social Security taxes are one of the biggest expenses businesses have.  If you look at your paycheck you will see some withholding taxes.  Included in those taxes you will see Social Security.  Or FICA (which includes both Social Security and Medicare withholding taxes).  These are your contributions for your retirement.  But you don’t pay them.

The Social Security contribution is ostensibly split into two parts.  There’s the employee contribution (those taxes withheld from your paycheck).  And the employer’s matching contribution.  But the employer pays the whole thing.  Just like employers pay for unemployment taxes, workers’ compensation insurance, disability insurance, health insurance (for the most part, some employees contribute a portion these days), life insurance, paid vacation, paid holidays, paid sick days and pension contributions (for those who still pay pensions).  All of these benefit the employee, not the employer.  Yet the employer picks up the tab for these expenses.  And Social Security is no different.

Actually, there is one difference.  All of these employer-paid expenses reduce the employer’s taxable income.  Except one.  The employee’s Social Security contribution.  The employer has to write the check to pay the full amount of these taxes.  Paying the full amount (both employer’s and employee’s contribution) reduces the amount of cash they have on hand to pay their other bills.  The full amount of these Social Security taxes influence hiring decisions.  And once they pay these taxes it’s income they’ve earned they no longer have.  But they still pay income taxes on it.  Despite the employee paying income taxes on this same income.

One of the Largest Expenses a Business has is Social Security Taxes

So the employee does not pay Social Security taxes.  It’s just another on a long list of expenses an employer has to pay.  That said the employee’s contribution does reduce his or her net pay.  When President Obama cut the employee’s Social Security tax rate 2% the employee’s net pay increased.  While the employer matching portion remained at the same rate.  Yet the check the employer wrote for Social Security taxes reflected this 2% reduction.  Because the employer pays all of these payroll taxes whether it’s unemployment, workers’ compensation or Social Security.  The following chart summarizes sample labor costs.  Both at the Obama tax cut.  And after it expired.  For an employee with a gross annual pay of $66,360 (for 47.4 weeks of work plus 4.6 weeks paid time off).

Note the 2nd largest cost after health care is Social Security.  Both the employer’s and employee’s portion add up to $9,027 (both at 6.2%).  Which is a lot of money.  If an employer has 15 employees that Social Security check they have to write totals $135,408.  Half of which does NOT reduce an employer’s taxable income.  Assuming an effective tax rate of 26% (for a small business owner filing as a subchapter S or an LLC where their business earnings flow through to their personal tax returns) that’s an additional $17,603.04 ($4,514 X 15 X 26%) of taxes the employer has to pay on income that they receive no benefit from.

Under the Obama tax cut this employee had $1,456 less withheld from his or her paycheck.  Or $52 less a week.  Or $5.60 less a workday.  Almost enough to pay for lunch.  Or enough to make you stop going out to lunch.  For the 15 employees that’s $780 pulled out of the local economy each week.  For a city with 500,000 workers that’s $26,000,000 pulled out of the city economy each week.  That’s a lot of economic activity.  That can provide a lot of jobs.  So why let the Obama tax cut expire when they have such a positive effect on the economy?

Social Security is Going Bankrupt thanks to an Aging Population

Because Social Security is going bankrupt.  And the solvency of Social Security isn’t helped when you cut the only funding mechanism for it.  The Social Security tax.  That 2% reduction in the tax rate cost the retirees some $176 billion each year.  That’s why they let the Obama tax cut expire.  $176 billion is a lot of money for a program going bankrupt.  And it’s a lot of money for a government that runs a deficit.  Which is the real reason why they wanted to let the Obama tax cut expire.

When the government needs to pay for their deficit spending the Social Security Trust Fund is just too tempting to pass up.  All those payroll taxes flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund.  Just sitting there.  Not being spent.  It’s just too much for a politician to resist.  So they raid the Trust Fund. They take that cash and spend it.  Leaving behind a bunch of IOUs.  Treasury bonds.  The kind that can’t be bought or sold.  Non-negotiable.  Which means the only way to redeem these bonds (and to repay the Social Security Trust Fund) is by raising taxes, further borrowing or reducing benefits.  Such as raising the age when you can start collecting Social Security benefits.  All of which we’ve used to try to forestall the inevitably bankruptcy of Social Security.

So Social Security is a very complex thing.  Social Security taxes are a tremendous cost burden on businesses.  And they pull a lot of spending money out of the economy.  Reducing economic activity.  Yet as much money as they pull out of the economy it’s not enough.  Social Security is still going bankrupt.  Thanks to an aging population (the number of beneficiaries is growing at a greater rate than those entering the workforce to pay for these benefits).  And even though the rate of money flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund is falling it’s still large enough for politicians to raid to pay for other out of control spending obligations.  Ensuring that Social Security will go bankrupt no matter what tax rates are.

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AARP’s Endorsement of Obamacare puts pressure on Social Security Benefits

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 29th, 2012

Week in Review

AARP endorsed and helped pass Obamacare into law.  In exchange for an exemption from the very law they supported so they can sell their “Medigap” insurance policies easier than their competitor Medicare Advantage could sell theirs (see AARP latest to receive Obamacare break by Matthew Boyle posted 5/19/2011 on The Daily Caller).  Good for AARP.  But not for the senior citizens they represent.  For Obamacare will lower the quality of US health care.  And increase health care costs.  Especially for seniors.  So whenever AARP starts quoting Ronald Reagan one should be suspect as they are no friend of Ronald Reagan.  For Ronald Reagan would not have approved of what AARP did to help pass Obamacare into law.  Even if he and Tip O’Neill worked together to pull Social Security back from the brink of insolvency (see Ronald Reagan’s 9 Wisest Words About Social Security by Alejandra Owens posted 12/19/2012 on AARP).

That legislation, negotiated by President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill, focused on what was needed protect Social Security for the long term. Reagan understood that Social Security is a separately funded program unrelated to problems in the rest of the budget, and he clearly stated that: “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.”

Indeed, today the Social Security trust funds hold $2.8 trillion in government bonds. These reserves have been built up with the contributions that workers and employers have paid into the system for the dedicated purpose of paying Social Security benefits. These funds are held in legally established trusts and cannot be used for any purpose other than paying benefits. According to the latest Trustees’ report, Social Security can pay full benefits through 2033, and roughly 75 percent of benefits beyond that time.

The Social Security Trust Fund?  There’s no trust fund.  The government raided it long ago and replaced it with IOUs.  Government bonds.  Current Social Security taxes go to pay for current benefits.  There is no pile of cash earning interest anywhere.  No personalized savings accounts for individual Social Security contributors.  If there were then there would be no Social Security crisis.  No, that money is gone.  Spent by the government to fund their current spending obligations.  Which are so great that even by raiding the Social Security Trust Fund they still can’t find enough cash to prevent a deficit.

The government spends our Social Security contributions for every other purpose they want to other than paying our benefits.  They just launder the money first through the Treasury Department.  Exchange IOUs (i.e., government bonds) for that cash.  Then they go and spend that cash.  And when it comes time to redeem those government bonds they’ll probably just print money.  Inflating the money supply.  And depreciate the dollar.  Making it ever harder for a senior to live on their retirement savings.  And because of what AARP did to help pass Obamacare into law there will even be less money available for Social Security benefits.  Requiring more printing of money.  And more devaluing of the dollar.  Making life a living hell for the retirees they supposedly represent.  At least according to that article in The Daily Caller.

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