Commentary: Social Security is not so secure

This editorial appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

Celebrities and politicians both have a heck of a time acknowledging that age waits for no one. Such denial may be harmless enough for the likes of Joan Rivers, but it’s downright dangerous among the governing class. Taxpayers, beware.

A tidal wave of retiring baby boomers has long threatened to swamp the programs that guarantee retiree benefits, but elected leaders have failed to act. Now the recession is compounding the effects of their procrastination.

The nation recently learned that the coming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare is picking up speed. The reason: Workers are losing their jobs by the millions, and with them go the payroll taxes that feed both programs.

The latest projections show that Social Security will have to start paying benefits out of its reserve by 2016, and the reserve itself would last only 20 years. After that, the program would require more than payroll taxes to sustain itself.

The situation is worse for Medicare, which has also been squeezed by rising health care costs. It could be out of money to pay hospitals by 2017.

As for those supposedly lucky Americans with pensions, many of them also face an uncertain future. Corporate pensions are teetering, and the federal agency created to steady them is itself be on shaky ground.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. that acts as a backstop to 29,000 pension plans is already $33.5 billion in the red. It could get much worse as more companies go bankrupt and renege on generous pension commitments, some of which are woefully underfunded. The government could come under pressure to shore up the fund with taxpayer money.

To read the complete editorial, visit The (Tacoma) News Tribune.