The federal government will have make tough choices to sustain Social Security
Last week's announcement that Social Security payments will not be increased next year should come as no surprise. The cost of living adjustments were set in a formula back in the 1970s. When that formula -- based on the Consumer Price Index -- is negative for inflation, payments stay the same.
No increases were forthcoming this year and none are in the works for next year.
Reaction among Social Security recipients was mixed. As expected, some said they relied on the annual increases for higher costs of utilities and medical expenses. Others said they understood the economic realities.
Though Social Security was never intended as an income stream to cover all expenses during retirement, government studies show a majority of retirees rely on the monthly checks to cover most of their expenses.
Social Security checks -- which average $1,072 -- go to an estimated 59 million retired Americans.
Social Security has both a political and an economic reality. On the political side, any attempt to tamper with the sacred allotment comes at a high price for the 59 million recipients. Older voters are reliable voters and both parties know that fact.
On the economic side however, Social Security is a massive entitlement program that we're told is unsustainable in the long run. And someday -- perhaps sooner than later -- we will be forced to adjust the program in light of those economic realities.
The way government often works is that we deal with a problem only when it becomes a crisis. If that is the case, rest assured that Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security will soon reach that crisis point. Some would argue we're already there.
To address Social Security, you can raise the taxes paid by current and future workers to bring more revenue into the system. Or you can adjust the retirement age to trigger Social Security payments. Or you can adjust the system, whereby wealthy retirees with substantial income receive reduced Social Security payments.
Regardless of the solution, the fact is that the federal government must reduce spending across the board. And to reduce spending doesn't mean a simple agreement to hold spending at current levels. It means we have to reduce spending on programs that we can no longer sustain.
Like it or not, Social Security is high on that list.