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Social Security Lie #1: “Its Creators Didn’t Plan For An Aging Population”

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 7, 2013

Spurred on by this excellent MyFDL piece, which cites this deceitful New York Times Op-Ed piece, I have decided to address what may be the most pernicious lie told about Social Security — namely, that it wasn’t originally designed to take the aging of America’s population into account. As Alternet’s Lynn Parramore, writing for Salon, notes, this is bogus:

On our red-herring tour, let’s start with the oft-repeated claim that the original designers of the program did not consider rising life expectancy in their calculations. Fortunately, public records pertaining to the lengthy and detailed discussions of the Roosevelt administration’s Committee on Economic Security (CES), tasked with constructing proposals for Social Security, are available for anyone to see. It is absolutely clear from the record that the designers knew that the number of people over the age of 65 was going to increase and that people were going to live longer.There were differences – as there are now – on exactly how to project this demographic shift, but the idea that a growing rate of older folks taking payouts was bound to happen was a topic of intense scrutiny. Consider the Old Age Security Staff Report, dated January 1935:

“At the time of the last Census (1930) there were six and a half million people 65 years of age and over in the United States. They constituted 5.4% of the population. As a result of a declining birth rate in this country, which manifested itself about 1820 and persisted from that time, the ratio of aged persons has shown a continuous growth from the date. The increase was very slow for 40 years, more rapid from 1860 on, and noticeably accelerated between 1920 and 1930. The latter was due to a rather sharp decline in birth rate which set in about 1920. This decline is expected to persist, moreover, and will of course produce a correspondingly sharp increase in the ratio of the aged to the population as a whole. The recent improvement in mortality rate makes its contribution to this situation.”

That’s right: Not only did the designers know full well that a larger population of older folks was coming, they actually made projections based on that assumption well into the future. They even produced a handy table which projects that increase all the way up to 1980, anticipating a 140 percent increase in the 60 years following 1920.

There. Had to get that out of my system.


2 Responses to “Social Security Lie #1: “Its Creators Didn’t Plan For An Aging Population””

  1. Charles II said

    I’m not sure I would call the NYT editorial deceitful. It’s narcissistic (the actuaries aren’t actual statisticians so how could they possibly be aware of the fact that people are quitting smoking?)

    There are just too many unknowns in life expectancy to make 75 year projections. We shouldn’t try. We should just raise productivity as rapidly as possible, especially by ceasing to waste human talent and natural resources. Those elderly people are going to have to be taken care of somehow, either by their children, by their former employers, or by government pension. Or we could send them out on ice floes, if global warming doesn’t melt all the ice.

    Tom Thumb points out their are countervailing factors that may shorten life expectancy, which is a useful antidote for the narcissism in King’s OpEd. But even that is, IMO, way too simplistic. Prohections should always be treated as guides which will need regular adjustment to reflect changed circumstances. Considering how we are treating the earth, we may not have a overpopulation problem in 75 years. It could well be an underpopulation problem.

    • Phoenix Woman said

      It’s all about trying to justify the proposed destruction of Social Security and the parceling out of its trust fund to brokerage firms, hedge funds and other private entities that are champing at the bit to charge us 25% overhead costs on our own money, as opposed to the 0.8% overhead costs of the current Social Security setup. (That’s right, folks: Government is far more efficient than the private sector in this regard.)

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