Getting Real about Social Security

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An election official adjusts curtains to a polling booth at a polling station (Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP / Getty Images)

An election official adjusts curtains to a polling booth at a polling station (Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP / Getty Images)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

As I was reading various articles online on Tuesday, a headline caught my eye. The story was about how to estimate the Social Security benefits you will receive when you retire.

At first, I thought it was a scam, but when I saw that it directed me to a page that looked official enough, I went ahead and used the provided calculator to see the benefits that will be promised to me when I retire.

It estimated that I would be able to replace nearly 50% of my annual income if I retired at 70 years old.

The results made me chuckle for many reasons. One, the idea of me being able to retire as early as my 70th birthday without winning the lottery entertained me. Two, the fact that this calculator estimated that Social Security would still exist when I turn 70 was also entertaining.

But the final chuckle I received from this little exercise was the idea that Social Security was somehow designed to replace 50% of my current income. If this is actually the case for retirees right now, I can begin to see the real problem with our ballooning deficit and ever growing retiree issue.

Social Security was not originally designed to be a pension program for all Americans. When the program was rolled out, over 50% of the elderly lived in poverty. The program, in part, was created to help solve that problem.

Solving the problem of seniors in poverty was then, and still is, a very worthy cause. However, having Social Security play a role in everyone’s retirement plan, especially replacing as much as 50% of your current income, is helping to create the impossible problem that is currently the single greatest expenditure of the federal budget.

The hardest thing about addressing this issue is that Americans are unified in two opinions. One, something needs to be done about Social Security. Two, my benefits better not change.

Until we surrender the second demand, we have no hope answering the first demand.

Our collective hypocrisy on this issue hits its apex during the election season because we want every politician to promise that they will balance the federal budget. However, if any candidate promises to do so by adjusting Social Security benefits, we reward them by voting for their opponent.

Following this illogical voting habit to its logical conclusion, the only thing that can happen is that the current problem, which is nearly impossible to fix, will need to become much more difficult to solve for us to finally accept the hard truth.

The hard truth is this. For those that pay into Social Security throughout their careers, but retire above the poverty line, future benefits will need to be greatly reduced, and for some above a certain income level, disappear altogether.

I realize that sounds like heresy and if I planned to ever run for office, the previous paragraph would serve as my death warrant. But the fact of the matter is that if we still feel as a society that our elders should not die in abject poverty, but that we should also have a country that doesn’t owe money to other nations for the entirety of our grandchildren’s lives, difficult decisions must be made.

As a country, we certainly do not have the appetite for decisions like this yet. It will need to get much worse to really motivate Americans to make serious changes. But it’s not like this problem is going to suddenly get better with the largest generation in our history just now entering retirement. This one is not going away any time soon.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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