The Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program, otherwise known as Social Security, was instituted by FDR in 1935, and is still implemented in the United States today. The program is completely universal, which means that any U.S citizens can reap its benefits regardless of financial standing. The system is funded through payroll taxes. This means that the younger, working classes pay payroll taxes (shared in an equal proportion by employers and employees) that are redistributed by the government to the older generations and to the disabled. Individuals that pay their payroll taxes for at least 10 years are guaranteed permanent benefits when they are older.
So far, the program has been relatively successful, having provided benefits to 2.3 million spouses and children of retired workers, 6.1 million surviving children and spouses of deceased workers, and 10.8 million disabled workers and their eligible dependents in December 2015. Furthermore, Social Security has provided monthly retirement benefits averaging $1,342 to 40 million retired workers in December 2015. In the United States, only 14% of its citizens live in poverty in 2015, and a large part of that is because of Social Security benefits provided to them! Compared to the fact that 24% of the UK lives in poverty, it is evident that Social Security has reaped great benefits to American society.
While Social Security certainly does much good, it is also very expensive. In 2015, Social Security cost 24% of the federal budget, roughly $888 billion dollars. Compare that to the fact that 16% of the budget (roughly $602 billion) goes towards the military, and it is apparent that Social Security is indeed a very expensive program.
Moreover, Social Security is an inter-generational program. As stated before, younger generations pay payroll taxes to provide for older generations and other dependents. While this system may function fine when a country has a large younger generation and a small older generation, it is not going to work if a country has a small working class and a large dependent class. In the United States, along with many other Western countries, people have noticed a “graying of the population”, meaning that the older population grows steadily while the young, working class stays stagnant. If this continues, it may contribute to the collapse of the Social Security system.
Due to this, as well as other factors, Social Security’s cash expenses have been exceeding its cash receipts since 2010, accumulating into a massive deficit. In 2014, this gap was at around $74 billion, and has been exponentially increasing since. While the Social Security program has credited interest on a previous surplus from over 3 decades ago (Pew Research), this will only be able to cover the severe debt until 2020. And after that, Social Security’s combined Treasury reserves are likely to be depleted by 2036. After the reserves are exhausted, the system still will be receiving tax revenue, but it will only be enough to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits. This will all occur unless Congress changes the benefit formula or raises payroll taxes, or perhaps creates a new benefit system altogether.
While Social Security certainly has its benefits, its massive costs, growing deficit, and reliance on a large, healthy working class may render it impractical in the long run.