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Social Security at 75: Crisis Is More Myth Than Fact

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The 75th anniversary of the signing of Social Security into law is cause for celebration as it marks a milestone of longevity and signals a promising future for one of America's greatest social policies.

I admit that I have a strong personal connection, having served in the Social Security Administration, and knowing that this policy, which has helped three generations of Americans, is one of my grandfather's proudest legacies.

My celebration is tempered by great concern. There are falsehoods and ill-informed distortions unleashed against Social Security by those who seek political gain. Their goal is to create a climate of fear around the future of Social Security. Repeatedly, they tell us that the program is bankrupting the country, paying out more than it takes in, will be made insolvent by retiring "baby boomers," and thus unavailable to for future generations.

The truth is that Social Security is completely solvent today, and will be into the future because it has a dedicated income stream that covers its costs and consistently generates a surplus, which today is $2.5 trillion. Estimates are that the Social Security surplus will grow to approximately $4.3 trillion in 2023, and that reserves will be sufficient to pay full benefits through the year 2037. After 2037, Social Security would still be able to pay for 78 percent of benefits even with no adjustments to revenues or benefits.

And those "baby boomers" who are going to bust Social Security when the retire? They have been paying into the system for more than 40 years, generating the large surplus the program has accumulated. Much of the money that baby boomers are and will be drawing on from Social Security, is, and will be, their own. That fact is conveniently forgotten by the critics.

Polls show that Social Security is popular with the public. This is not surprising given that it has lifted millions of American out of poverty and saved countless others from destitution born of disability. Moreover, nearly one in five recipients of Social Security benefits are children under the age of 18. Nevertheless, polls also show that the fear tactics are working, and that a majority of Americans do not expect to receive Social Security benefits when they retire.

Understanding that the public will not succumb to a frontal assault on Social Security, Tea Party supporters, Libertarians and other critics advance their radical agenda by creating a "mythology of fear" trotting out themes of a program that is "in crisis," "bankrupt," "broke," and, in the wake of the Madoff scandal, even a "Ponzi scheme." They then position themselves not as wanting to eliminate Social Security but as wanting to "save, "strengthen," and "protect" Social Security by privatizing it.

Social Security does not need to be saved. The fact is, Social Security has been the most successful government program of the past 75 years. Today, 53 million Americans receive Social Security benefits each month. No other program in American history -- has touched more lives and families and brought more financial stability to households -including those of is most ardent critics.

The Social Security Administration should do more to debunk the reprehensible fear campaign against the program. Public figures who support the program - including the president- should add their voices in support and work to calm the rhetoric.