Social Security Scare: Is Government Running Out of Funds?

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After 2037, "you would have to cut benefits by around 22 percent across the board for new and old retirees alike, so it would be a really drastic cut," he said. "If you know you have to make changes, you start today. You spread the pain over as many generations of people as you can."

In 1950, there were 16 workers per beneficiary; in 1960, there were five workers per beneficiary; in 2010, the ratio was three workers to one beneficiary, and by 2025, there will be just 2.3 workers "paying in" per beneficiary, according to estimates compiled by the president's non-partisan fiscal commission.

"Unless we act, these immense demographic changes will bring the Social Security program to its knees," the report stated. "Without action, the benefits currently pledged under Social Security are a promise we cannot keep."

If the Social Security reserve does run out of funds, millions of new enrollees would have to be rejected, those enrolled in the program are likely to see benefit cuts, and working Americans could see a sudden increase in their payroll tax.

Twenty-six years may seem a long way off, but experts say the program could become unsustainable if the government doesn't take action today.

"Our window for a reasonably tolerable solution is closing pretty fast," said Charles Blahous, former deputy director of President George W. Bush's National Economic Council and currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

"The cost of delay right now is incredibly costly because baby boomers are already retiring," he said. "Each year you wait, you have millions more people whose benefits are politically inviolate and your options start to get constrained very very rapidly. The idea we can wait till 2037 is nuts."

Proponents of reform say, however, that the Republicans' proposal to trim money from Social Security's budget isn't the answer either.

"I think we should target the cuts in areas we think that are not as important so government can do what it needs to do," Biggs said.

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