Social Security trustees see earlier fund depletion date
The trustees of the Social Security system said Monday the fund that helps sustain retiree and survivors' benefits will become exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than they projected last year.
At that point, payroll taxes and taxation of Social Security benefits will provide only enough income to pay about 75 percent of the benefits that Congress has promised to retirees and survivors.
In practical terms, this means that a 40-year-old worker who is eligible to collect retirement benefits in 2039, would see his or her expected retirement benefit cut by about 25 percent, unless Congress took action to change the program's funding or its benefit structure.
Last year, Social Security paid benefits of $725 billion. There were about 55 million beneficiaries.
In their annual report, the trustees also estimated that Social Security's Disability Insurance fund will be exhausted in 2016, two years sooner than last year's estimate. Congress will need to take action to avert that outcome, with the most likely remedy being a reallocation of the payroll tax between the part of the tax that supports Social Security's retirement and survivors' benefits and the part of the tax that pays for disability benefits.
The Social Security system does have assets in the form of $2.7 trillion in Treasury bonds -- but those assets must be redeemed – cashed in – in order to pay benefits.
"The redemption of those bonds can only occur out of current income," explained Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad last year. "The general fund has been borrowing from Social Security and we've borrowed well over $2 trillion," he said. "That money has got to be paid back. How's it going to be paid back? It's going to be paid back by the other general expenditures of the federal government having to be reduced to make way for the payments that we're going to have to make on those bonds."