Social Security is considered the “third rail” of politics — no one wants to touch it — but many presidential hopefuls still have a position on how to improve the social program, which is a source of significant financial support for millions of retired and disabled Americans, even though the candidates don’t talk about it much.
The two trust funds that support Social Security are running out of money, and are expected to be fully depleted within the next 15 years. If that were to happen, beneficiaries would receive about 80% of the benefits they’re owed. Congress has yet to step in and create a plan to redirect the program’s trajectory, but there are numerous options for what can be done.
(Experts say Congress has never let Social Security fail, and it won’t this time either — it’s just a matter of when it will be fixed).
“Democrats are unanimous on not cutting benefits,” said Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and a MarketWatch columnist, which compiled the stances of Democratic candidates, including how they’d change benefits and increase revenue. Republican candidates and President Trump have yet to address Social Security in recent months, though the president has said in the past he would not cut Social Security.
“The administration has not provided information on how to cover the shortfall once the trust fund is depleted,” Munnell said.
Benefit reductions could happen in a few ways: raising the full retirement age, which would lower how much retirees get in monthly benefits the farther away their claiming age is to their full retirement age; using a lower price index for the cost-of-living adjustment, which is already not keeping pace with inflation; a general reduction in benefits or a reduction for just high-earners, the Center for Retirement Research said. Democrats are against all of these options.
Instead, Democrats want to increase revenue and benefits for the program and its beneficiaries, as seen below.
A retiree’s monthly benefit is calculated using a few factors, including their wages and years in the workforce. Child care credits would allow individuals who left the workforce to care for children to still receive some sort of credit for their labor, since time away from working reduces the number of credits that person receives, and thus, their monthly benefit. This is usually why women struggle to earn as much as men in retirement income, because they are often caregivers to children and family members.
Candidates have made a few other suggestions as well. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed eliminating the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset, which restrict what some public-sector workers receive in benefits, and has also suggested giving all beneficiaries $200 more a month.
Joe Biden, the former vice president, said he would give the oldest beneficiaries, defined as those receiving retirement benefits for at least 20 years, a higher monthly check to offset “dwindling retirement savings.”
Andrew Yang is a proponent of universal basic income, and says he’d give most every American an extra $1,000, which includes supplementing Social Security.
Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would increase the survivor benefit age for children of disabled or deceased workers to age 22, as long as they are full-time students. He also proposed raising the payroll tax cap, which is the maximum limit wealthier Americans have before they no longer need to pay into the system.
Presidential candidates, and many other politicians, tend to steer clear of discussions around Social Security, especially when discussing solutions such as cutting benefits or raising taxes. Many Americans rely on their monthly benefit for most of their total retirement income, even though the program is intended to make up just a portion of it. At the same time, not all lawmakers agree raising taxes is the right choice, as it can become burdensome for young workers.
Candidates do talk about financial issues on the campaign trail, but they rarely spend air time during debates having these discussions. Moderators may not ask the questions, and there are so many other hot topics to talk about — like climate change, health care and the presidential impeachment trial — that retirement and aging matters may go without notice.