On January 31, 1940, the first monthly retirement check was issued to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont, in the amount of $22.54. Miss Fuller, a legal secretary, retired in November 1939. She started collecting benefits in January 1940 at age 65 and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1975. She worked for three years under the Social Security program. The accumulated tax on her salary during those three years was a total of $24.75. Her initial monthly check was $22.54. During her lifetime she collected a total of $22,888.92 in Social Security benefits. From an actuarial standpoint, the Social Security program started off on the wrong foot.
I also ran across a Sun Life study this week that said 48% of Americans would voluntarily walk away from Social Security and all the money they've paid into it and take no benefits if they never had to pay into the system again. After seeing the good fortune of Ms. Fuller, you'd call those people crazy right? I wouldn't be so quick to make that assumption. Obviously these are younger worker with far less invested in the SS program. But I think most people realize that the word of our government has become worth less and less. Every few years we get a new set of legislators and a new administration that seems to work off of opposite ideals. China has caught on. Why should they buy our debt if we just turn around and print more money?
The math is there. Social Security is paying out far more than it takes in. A person age 65 in 1940 could expect to live another 12 years; today, they may expect to live another 18 years, or 50% longer (Source: 2007 OASDI Trustees Report, Social Security Administration). As 77 million baby boomers – 26% percent of the U.S. population – began retiring in 2008, there will be a dramatic rise in retirees collecting Social Security retirement benefits. Social Security is a system that relies on the taxes paid by wage-earners to pay the benefits for retirees. When Social Security was created, there were 41 workers to each retiree. Today, there are 3.3 workers for every retiree. By 2030, it is estimated that there will only be 2.2 workers to support every retiree. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, charged with managing the Social Security trust funds, has warned that cash flows could turn negative as soon as 2017, bankrupting the system by 2041. It was not designed to be a retirement savings program, it was designed to get older workers out of the work force to create jobs in the 1930's for younger workers. If I asked you to invest in a company that had this outlook and these financials, would you ever invest with any expectation of getting your money back? No!
If we have learned anything from the current economic problems, it is that this way of life whether in personal life or in government is not sustainable. Sooner or later, someone is caught holding the bag, on the hook for far more than they are able to pay.
Interesting to note that our government seems to have a knack for running things into the ground. I say we give them a shot at Health Care.