Critics of Social Security and those who claim to support it but really want to cut benefits (despite SS being fiscally sound) often expound myths about Social Security to make it sound like a program doomed from the start. They often call it a “Ponzi Scheme” despite SS’s dynamics not being at all dependent on exponential increases in members the way a Ponzi Scheme does.
Well, another myth that gets circulated is that the extension of longevity in recent generations, the so-called “graying of America”, was never foreseen by the creators of Social Security. The implication, they say, is that SS has to pay too many benefits for too long to too many people. This myth, as they say on TV, is BUSTED. I’ll let Paul Krugman, following research by Bruce Webb, do the talking:
Well, it turns out that Table 9 in the 1945 report (pdf) shows high and low estimates of the population distribution looking forward as far as 2000, which we can compare with the actual population distribution in 2000.
What you can see right away is that the SSA expected a much smaller population than we actually ended up with — the baby boom and immigration weren’t anticipated. But they also expected a somewhat older population than we actually got: their “low” estimate put the ratio of seniors to adults under 65 at 20.8%, almost the same as the actual 21.1%, while the “high” estimate put the ratio at 29.1%. That is, in 1945 the Trustees thought that America would probably be a grayer, older country by 2000 than it actually ended up being.
So way back in 1945, less than 8 years after the program started, the Social Security trustees looked into their crystal ball and foresaw a much older America in 2010. The reality is Social Security System works and is solvent. It does not contribute to the U.S. federal government deficit. But, of course, for people who object to any type of government program (except defense, of course) facts are not a barrier.