Social Security’s Future: The 2024 Report

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About Andy Toolson

Andy Toolson first obtained his financial services license in 1990. After an 11-year professional basketball career in the NBA and Europe and four years of coaching at the Division 1 level, Andy decided to transition full-time into his fascination with financial markets and advisory. He has since worked as a VP/Financial Consultant at Charles Schwab and Company, Key Investment Services, and Cambria Capital and has run his own firm, Toolson Wealth Management, since 2013.

The 2024 Trustees Report has presented mixed news for Social Security‘s financial outlook. While it shows a slight reduction in the 75-year deficit, the depletion date for the retirement trust fund remains at 2033. The threat of a 21% benefit cut looms just nine years away, underscoring the urgent need for action to restore the program’s balance. This article delves into the latest figures, the implications of delaying reform, and the potential solutions to ensure the sustainability of Social Security.

Introduction

The 2024 Trustees Report slightly lowered the projected 75-year deficit to 3.50% of taxable payroll, down from 3.61% in 2023. This improvement stems from an upward revision in productivity growth and a reduced disability incidence rate, albeit partially offset by a lower assumed long-term fertility rate. Despite these adjustments, the projected depletion date for the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund remains at 2033. The combined OASDI trust funds, which include the Disability Insurance (DI) fund, have a slightly extended depletion date to 2035, but legal changes are required to merge these funds.

The 2024 Report

Under the Trustees’ intermediate assumptions, the cost of the OASDI program is set to rise from 14.7% of taxable payroll today to 16.3% by 2040, peaking at 18.6% in 2080 before a slight decline. This increase is primarily driven by demographics: the Baby Boomers’ retirement and a declining fertility rate have reduced the ratio of workers to retirees from 3:1 to 2:1. While the trust fund assets, currently covering about two years of benefits, mitigate the short-term deficit, they are being drawn down as costs exceed revenues. The trust fund depletion will result in benefits covered only by incoming payroll taxes, which would initially cover 79% of scheduled benefits, dropping to 71% over time.

Implications of Delay

Delaying action on Social Security reform has several significant costs:

  1. Disappearing Options: One option that diminishes over time is investing a portion of the trust fund in equities. Higher expected returns from equities could reduce the need for tax increases or benefit cuts. However, creating a meaningful reserve for such investments becomes more challenging as the trust fund depletes.
  2. Intergenerational Equity: Delaying reform shifts the financial burden to younger generations. If action had been taken in the early 1990s, Baby Boomers would have shared more of the cost. Millennials and future generations now face the full impact of the required tax increases or benefit cuts.
  3. Automatic Adjustments: To prevent future crises, any reform package should include automatic adjustments to ensure financial balance. Many countries have mechanisms linking retirement program parameters to economic or demographic changes. Implementing a similar system in the U.S. would stabilize Social Security’s finances and restore public confidence.

Potential Solutions

Addressing Social Security’s long-term deficit requires a combination of measures:

  1. Payroll Tax Increase: Raising the payroll tax by 3.5 percentage points could close the 75-year funding gap. This solution is straightforward but politically challenging.
  2. Benefit Adjustments: Modifying benefits, such as adjusting the cost-of-living adjustments or the retirement age, could help balance the program’s finances.
  3. Equity Investments: Investing a portion of the trust fund in equities could provide higher returns, reducing the need for drastic tax increases or benefit cuts. However, this requires a stable trust fund reserve.
  4. Automatic Stabilizers: Implementing mechanisms that automatically adjust benefits and taxes based on economic and demographic changes would ensure long-term solvency and prevent future crises.

Conclusion

The 2024 Trustees Report highlights the urgency of reforming Social Security to avoid severe benefit cuts by 2033. While the report shows a slight improvement in the 75-year deficit, the need for immediate action remains. Implementing a balanced reform package that includes tax increases, benefit adjustments, and automatic stabilizers may restore confidence in Social Security and distribute the financial burden more equitably across generations. Ensuring the sustainability of this vital program requires timely and decisive action from policymakers.

To better understand how these changes might affect your retirement plans and to explore personalized solutions, contact a trusted financial advisor today. They may provide tailored advice to help you navigate the uncertainties and secure your financial future.

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About Andy Toolson

Andy Toolson first obtained his financial services license in 1990. After an 11-year professional basketball career in the NBA and Europe and four years of coaching at the Division 1 level, Andy decided to transition full-time into his fascination with financial markets and advisory. He has since worked as a VP/Financial Consultant at Charles Schwab and Company, Key Investment Services, and Cambria Capital and has run his own firm, Toolson Wealth Management, since 2013.

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