Social Security is officially in the red. The New York Times reports that the system will pay out more than it takes in this year. Explains the Times:
The bursting of the real estate bubble and the ensuing recession have hurt jobs, home prices and now Social Security.
This year, the system will pay out more in benefits than it receives in payroll taxes, an important threshold it was not expected to cross until at least 2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, said that while the Congressional projection would probably be borne out, the change would have no effect on benefits in 2010 and retirees would keep receiving their checks as usual.
The problem, he said, is that payments have risen more than expected during the downturn, because jobs disappeared and people applied for benefits sooner than they had planned. At the same time, the program’s revenue has fallen sharply, because there are fewer paychecks to tax.
Analysts have long tried to predict the year when Social Security would pay out more than it took in because they view it as a tipping point — the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency, unless Congress strengthens the program’s finances.
The crisis is now, since the vaunted “trust fund” is filled with non-recourse government bonds–essentially worthless pieces of paper. There’s no there there when it comes to financing future benefits. Either payments have to come down or taxes have to go up, unless we adopt real reform centered around personal accounts. And the latter course seems ever more distant after Congress voted to expand federal control over every Americans’ health care.