The simple Social Security fix no one wants to talk about

One change could eliminate the long-term shortfall, promote tax equity and allow a modest benefit increase now

The 2012 Social Security Trustees’ Report shows the nation’s most important and popular social insurance system is on sound financial footing for at least another generation. With $2.7 trillion in its trust fund, Social Security can pay full benefits through 2033.

After 2033, the program can still pay 75% of benefits, even with no action by Congress. And because of how Social Security calculates benefits, that “75%” of benefits in 2033 will still be, on average, higher in inflation-adjusted dollars than full benefits are today.

But America can do better than that. Under the “Scrap the Cap” plan, Social Security can pay 100% of benefits after 2033, and even modestly expand benefits today, if Congress makes one simple change: eliminate Social Security’s cap on taxable income (now set at $110,100) so high income earners pay the same tax rate as middle class workers.

Eliminating Social Security’s cap on taxable income (now set at $110,100) means
high income earners would pay the same tax rate as middle class workers

The additional funding could boost benefits for low-income earners, add credits for individuals (often women) who take time from work to raise their family, and restore benefits for college students that were cut in the 1980’s.

“These improvements immediately boost the American economy, build economic security for women, and safeguard educational opportunities for young people who have suffered the loss of a parent,” according to Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute.

Social Security benefits are more critical to American economic security than ever. According to estimates, nearly one-half of Americans will be unable to maintain their standard of living in old age. About 1 in 4 Washington households – more than 1 million Washingtonians, including 73,000 children – received old age, survivor, or disability benefits from Social Security in December 2010.

[Cross-posted from Washington Policy Watch]

Quick facts about why Social Security is vital to Washington women and families

Via the National Women’s Law Center:

Social Security is a family insurance plan that provides retirement benefits and life and disability insurance to Washington’s working families.

  • About 1 in 6 residents – about 1,046,200 people – receives disability, survivor, and/or retirement benefits from Social Security.
  • 93 percent of residents 65 and older receive Social Security benefits.
  • About 70,500 children receive Social Security benefits because of the loss of a parent’s income due to death, disability or retirement.
  • About 180,900 disabled workers and their family members receive Social Security benefits.
  • About 80,000 widowed spouses receive Social Security survivor’s benefits. (Nationally, women represent virtually all (99 percent) of spouses receiving survivor benefits.)

Washington women depend on modest Social Security benefits to get by.

  • Women are a majority of both adult beneficiaries and beneficiaries 65 and older.
  • The average Social Security benefit for women 65 and older is about $12,400 per year, compared to about $16,500 for men 65 and older.
  • Older women rely more on income from Social Security than older men do. Median income for women 65 and older living alone is $18,200 per year – and Social Security represents 72 percent of that amount. Median income for comparable men is $27,500 – and Social Security represents 48 percent of that amount.

Social Security is a critical anti-poverty program for Washington women and families.

  • Social Security lifted 312,000 residents out of poverty, including 14,000 children.
  • Social Security dramatically reduced poverty rates for women 65 and older: from 43 to 10 percent for all women 65 and older, and from 63 to 16 percent for older women living alone.