The First Baby Boomer Collects Social Security

First member of the 80,000-strong boomer generation collects Social Security.

Oct. 15, 2007— -- Kathleen Casey-Kirschling was born New Year's Day 1946, at one second past midnight, making her the first baby of a new generation.

Raised on "Howdy Doody" and hula hoops, she danced on "American Bandstand." Her first husband served in Vietnam. And in later years, she prospered like many of her classmates -- the baby boomers.

"I just happened to be the first. The first of many," Casey-Kirschling said.

Today, she reached another milestone -- she became the first baby boomer to sign up to receive Social Security payments.

"It's a great feeling to know that after all these years of working and seeing that taken out of your check that actually you're getting it back," she said.

Trouble is, 80 million others are right behind her. Casey-Kirschling is the raindrop that's about to become a tidal wave.

"If this were a movie, this is when the scary music would start, because there are so many people coming in this flood," David John, an economist from the Heritage Foundation, said.

FDR did not foresee how a population boom might affect the program he introduced in 1935.

At the end of World War II, there were 44 workers paying Social Security taxes for every retiree collecting from the program. Now the ratio is just three workers for every one reitiree. And soon there will be more retirees than workers.

In a decade, Social Security will start paying out more than it takes in. In 35 years, the system will go bankrupt. Of course, it's perfectly obvious how to fix it: Either raise taxes or cut benefits. But both ideas are profoundly unpopular.

"The longer we wait the deeper the hole we are in," John said.

But it's not all bad news for Casey-Kirschling's generation.

"We always felt like the Russians may be coming, so we prepared. Our families prepared," she said.

They prepared not just for the Russians, but for retirement, too. Baby boomers saved on average $140,000 for retirement, according to the Urban Institute's projections. Among their parents, current retirees, the average was just $34,000.

The Urban Institute also projects that the baby boomers will also benefit from housing and stock market booms. Median household wealth for current retirees is nearly $450,000. Among baby boomers, it's projected to be closer to $600,000.

Social Security will be there for the boomers. But what about their kids?

"I really do have great concern for my children, but I have a greater concern for [the] grandchildren," Casey-Kirschling said.