I just Googled "Social Security" and got 1.08 billion hits. Needless to say, it's a hot topic. Without even clicking on those links, I know what most of them have in common. And, I can tell you that it's not good. It's not good for those dependent on the system today. It's not good those that are looking at it as an option for retirement in the future. And, it's not good for those contributing to the system today.
As most of us know, Social Security began as a measure to implement a "social insurance" of sorts during the Great Depression, when more than half of our seniors were living in poverty. Unfortunately, as with most government programs, it has become a mathematically unsustainable safety net that too many people have relabeled "retirement plan."
My advice, at least for those of us still in the workforce, is this: If you're planning on Social Security to be your main retirement income, don't. It was never created for that purpose and the numbers simply don't and won't add up. In fact, if it were just another investment option, it would be regarded as the worst.
I can already hear people saying, "I've been paying FICA most of my life and that money is mine!"
Sure. Maybe. Some of it. Maybe.
Our parents and grandparents got a great return on their investment in Social Security -- seven times more in benefits than they'd paid in, if they retired in 1960 and lived to 78 (men) or 81 (women).
As recently as 1985, workers at every income level could retire and expect to get more in benefits than they paid in Social Security taxes.
Today, retirees are actually receiving less than they paid in, according to Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. And with the gargantuan baby boomer generation hitting retirement age this year, expect our beleaguered Social Security system to start crumbling at the knees.
Social Security's trustees say the money will be gone -- despite what comes out of our paychecks -- in 2033. At that point, payroll taxes will provide enough revenue each year to pay about 75 percent of benefits.
However, there are other reports that argue that Social Security will not go bankrupt in 2033, as previously reported by the Trustees. These reports argue that it will go bankrupt in 2023 -- just about a decade from now. The next decade within our economy could be truly transformational. With likely returns from the market pegged at 4 percent by leading economists like Robert Shiller, you factor in the Social Security crisis along with other government entitlement programs and our economy will be faced with a lot of headwinds over the next decade.
Some of the changes being considered to fix the Social Security crisis range from higher taxes to lower benefits. Either way you look at proposed changes, this much is true: change is coming. But the question is are you ready for change?
Bottom line is this: When planning for retirement, it's best to assume that you won't get a dime of Social Security. You need a good backup if you hope to be eating more than cat food when you're 85.
If, by some miracle, a solution to Social Security can be devised and the program still exists when you retire, then you can treat yourself to a nice night out for some people food.