Fears of Social Security and Medicare’s Demise

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April 24, 2012

The annual report on Social Security, published Monday, stated that the retirement program “is on track to go bankrupt three years earlier than expected if reforms are not made,” reports Rachel Younglai and Glenn Somerville for Reuters.  The funding for Medicare similarly appears to be depleting quickly.  Social Security, the report projected, would begin to run out of money for retirees’ pension checks in 2033, while Medicare would run out of funding entirely by 2024.

These projections relate closely to the fact that baby boomers, 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, began retiring last year.  As they continue to do so, the strain on both Social Security and Medicare will increase.

Younglai and Somerville quote two trustees of Social Security as warning lawmakers that they must act quickly in order to prevent the demise of the program.  Because a large portion of the funding for Social Security comes from payroll taxes, a current suggestion for how to keep the program afloat is to raise payroll taxes.  Right now, the payroll tax on employers and employees is 12.4 percent.  The recommendation is to raise the percentage collected to 16.7.  This 4.3 percent increase is estimated to cover the growing costs of Social Security so that the benefits will continue to be paid in full.

Congressmen also have considered raising the retirement age or cutting certain benefits to the wealthiest citizens.  Because of the impending elections, however, it is unlikely that any decisions will be made regarding these issues, Younglai and Somerville report.  The most urgent issue, trustees of the Social Security fund reported, was the disability insurance program, whose funding likely will be depleted by 2016.

In terms of Medicare, Republicans are pushing to overhaul the entire program, while Obama and the Democratic party claim that his new health care plan has added eight more years of life to its funding.  Because both political parties strongly disagree on a solution, Younglai and Somerville explain again that it is unlikely for any changes to be made before the next election.

Bringing the Article into the Classroom

Teachers may begin by asking the students how the article relates the current U.S. economy to funding both Social Security and Medicare.  Why does the state of this country’s economy influence the funding of these two federal programs?  What other issues does the article point out as influencing the potential demise of Social Security and Medicare?  The teacher may also ask students to come up with alternative federal budgets, tax plans, or even Medicare and Social Security distribution plans that take into account the depleting funds.  Finally, the teacher may ask students how the issues raised about Medicare and Social Security relate to the federal budget and federal deficit.

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  1. Dean Orfanoyannis :

    The most important fact about Social Security funding is missing from this article. Social Security payroll taxes only apply to the first $111,000 of an individual’s yearly income. One of the proposals for making social security solvent is to speed up the lifting of this social security “tax cap” or eliminate it entirely — for some or all income levels above $111,000 per year.

    In order to for the students to devise “alternative……tax plans,” the above information is necessary to give them a complete framework they can use to create a full set of possible options. Because it is missing this crucial information, this article significantly limits the classroom debate.

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