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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Why the Democrats won’t Privatize Social Security

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 24th, 2013

Politics 101

FDR Transformed the Country because he had a Great Crisis to Exploit like the Great Depression

Once upon a time in a place that seems far, far away there was once a people that saved for retirement.  The savings rate was so high in this mystical land that businesses were able to borrow money at low interest rates to expand their business.  And there was great employment.  Then came an evil ogre who hated savings.  And responsible behavior.  He saw money saved as money leaked out of the economy.  Hurting economic activity.  His motto was spend don’t save.  And don’t worry about how you will take care of yourself in retirement.  So this evil ogre set out to destroy savings and responsible behavior.

That evil ogre’s name was John Maynard Keynes.  Who empowered governments with his inflationary monetary policies.  Allowing governments to spend a lot of money.  Giving them a lot of power.  By getting as many people dependent on the government as possible.  Keynes met with Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  To offer him ideas of how to spend his way out of the Great Depression.  FDR didn’t think much of Keynesian economics.  For he did try to maintain the gold standard.  But he loved spending money.  And getting people dependent on the government.

FDR gave us Big Government.  He did the things Woodrow Wilson wanted to do.  But Wilson couldn’t because he didn’t have a crisis like the Great Depression to exploit.  FDR did.  And he was able to transform the country because of it.  People saved less.  And government spent more.  Which led to deficit spending, massive debt and inflation.  And perhaps the cruelest thing he did was impoverish the retiring class.  By taking their wealth through taxes and inflation.  And making them dependent on a meager Social Security benefit.

Social Security Contributions would create a Bigger Nest Egg if Invested in the Private Sector

After seeing so many poor, hungry, homeless, etc., during the Great Depression government did something.  They punished those who saved responsibly for their retirement.  By redistributing their wealth to those who didn’t.  It seemed fair and just and kind.  And there was an element of that in providing a social safety net for our most vulnerable people.  But that wasn’t the intent of Social Security.  FDR wanted to transform the country.  Which he did.  And today they forecast Social Security will go bankrupt in the coming years.  Requiring ever more wealth redistribution.  All while making Social Security recipients live a more impoverished retirement than they would have.  Had they saved for their own retirement.  A true transformation of the richest country in the world.

So let’s look at the numbers.  Your Social Security contributions are technically saved in a ‘retirement account’ that accrues interest.  Each payroll period both employer and employee contribute to this ‘retirement account’.  Via a tax rate on a person’s gross pay up to a maximum amount (see Historical Payroll Tax Rates).  So let’s see what this would have done in the private sector.  Year by year.  With the following assumptions.  The worker enters the workforce at 18 and works until retiring at age 65.  The worker earns the maximum amount for Social Security taxes.  So all of his or her earnings are subject to the Social Security tax.  With each successive year we add the current contribution to the running balance in his or her retirement account.  The annual balance earns interest at 6% (including anywhere from 2-4% real return on their retirement investment and the rest of that 6% accounts for inflation).  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years.

Here we can see the power of compound interest.  As we earn interest on both our contributions and the previous interest we earned.  Note that the total contributions for 48 years of work total $282,608.38.  Which earned a total of $540,413.12 in interest.  Bringing the retirement nest egg up to $823,021.50.  Again, this is assuming that the Social Security contributions were actually private retirement savings.  That thing John Maynard Keynes hated.  So this is what a retiree would have to live on in retirement.  Had his or her money not gone to the government.

The Purpose of Social Security was to make People Dependent on Government and Redistribute Wealth

Now let’s look at what kind of retirement that nest egg will provide.  Starting with some more assumptions.  Let’s say the retiree lives 35 years in retirement.  Reaching a grand old age of 100.  Not your typical retirement.  But one this retirement nest egg can provide.  For someone with fairly modest means.  Each year the retiree lives on $53,553.  At the end of the year they earn interest on their remaining balance.  Which helps to stretch that $823,021.50 over those 35 years.  The following chart shows the beginning 5 years and the final 5 years of that retirement.

Note how that $282,608.38 in retirement contributions can provide $1,874,355 in retirement payments.  Again, that’s the miracle of compound interest.  So what kind of retirement would Social Security have provided?  Someone who retires after working till age 65 who was earning $110,100 near retirement will receive approximately $24,720 annually in retirement.  Over 35 years of retirement that comes to $865,200 in retirement benefits.  Which is $1,009,155 less than someone would get investing in a private sector retirement plan.  Or a reduction of 53.8%.  Which is what people lose when letting the government provide for their retirement.  So Social Security is a very poor retirement plan.  Besides going bankrupt.  Which is why the Republicans want to give younger workers the option to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement.  Which makes sense.  And would probably increase their quality of life in retirement.  As shown above.  So why are the Democrats so opposed to privatization of Social Security?

Because the purpose of Social Security was not to provide a quality retirement.  It was to make people dependent on government.  To redistribute wealth.  Increasing the power of government.  And for those things Social Security is a resounding success.  But there is one other thing why Democrats oppose privatizing Social Security.  What would happen if the person that built up that $823,021.50 nest egg died 5 years into retirement?  Who would get the remaining $781,392.18?  The retiree’s family.  Whereas if a Social Security beneficiary dies 5 years into retirement the government keeps their money.  To spend as they please.

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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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