7 Dangerous Social Security Myths – and the Truth

Our Facebook page has reached thousands of Florida voters who have commented with passionate arguments about the fate of Social Security under the President we elect in November. We welcome and encourage vigorous debate, but insist that assertions and opinions be based on evidence and facts.

Sadly, misinformation, disinformation, and even bald-faced lies show up on our site way too often. Some appear so often that they seem to come from a playbook. Regardless of origin, we have identified the seven myths that show up most frequently. Our responses below are based on solid research from a range of credible sources. You can double-check a lot of it on Google, other search vehicles or a range of official websites. Or feel free to ask us to share our sources.

These seven myths lead the hit parade of dangerous assumptions and assertions. By setting the record straight now, we hope people can make more informed choices on November 3: 

  • Ending the payroll tax won’t hurt Social Security
  • Social Security is Congress’s piggy bank
  • Social Security’s bankruptcy is imminent
  • Social Security is the ultimate debt threat
  • Saving Social Security will require massive cuts
  • Democrats and Republicans are equal Social Security abusers
  • Social Security is just a fraction of people’s retirement savings

Myth: Ending the payroll tax won’t hurt Social Security

Truth: Unless funding is absolutely guaranteed from another source, the payroll tax is essential

Social Security was set up with the payroll tax as its largest source of funding, specifically to avoid competition with other priorities, from national defense to government operations. At a time when trillions of dollars have been spent to address the effects of COVID-19, throwing Social Security into the federal food fight is beyond a non-starter. Trillions of dollars would have to be diverted from other sources. Suggesting that this is an option smacks of the promise that “Mexico will pay for the wall”—theoretically possible, but it’s never going to happen. Ending the payroll tax is a decisive step toward ending the promise of Social Security.

Myth:  Social Security is Congress’s piggy bank and has been raided repeatedly

Truth: Legally, Social Security funds can be used only to pay Social Security benefits

The charge that Democrats or Republicans or both have “taken” or “stolen” Social Security funds is based on two widely misunderstood and seriously distorted facts: 

1) Since Social Security has more money on hand than it needs to pay out at any given time, it is required to loan money as needed to other borrowers, including federal programs. Under the law, this money must be paid back, WITH INTEREST. Administrations of both parties have borrowed money—and paid it back.

2) Originally, Social Security’s budget was reported separately. In a move to make the federal budget comprehensive, Presidents Johnson and Nixon created the Unified Budget process. The process combines Social Security’s budget with others for accounting purposes only, leaving actual income and spending independent, just as they have been since the program’s founding.

Assertions that one politician or party “stole,” “took,” or “ripped off” Social Security funds are mere propaganda and should be seen as such.

Myth: Social Security’s bankruptcy is imminent

Truth: As long as there are payroll taxes, bankruptcy is not possible

The term “bankruptcy” is thrown about frequently by foes of Social Security. One often-heard charge is that revenues in the Social Security Trust fund will be unable to match payouts by [fill in the date—commonly 2035], and (with all caps), “WILL GO BANKRUPT!”

In truth, if no adjustments are made, benefits will indeed have to be cut by about 20% to allow the program to continue in the black. It will not go bankrupt, though, and there are many ways to address this problem, from raising the “cap” on taxable income (from annual earnings of $137,000 to something higher) to modifying benefits. With or without changes, Social Security will not disappear for current or future beneficiaries. 

Myth: Social Security is the ultimate debt threat

Truth:  If debt is the threat Republicans periodically claim, SS is not the source or solution 

No less an authority than Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell has observed, in the face of many trillion dollars of post-COVID expenditures, that our country’s longstanding preoccupation with debts and deficits may be based on outdated assumptions. Yet numerous politicians still contend that only cuts in “entitlement programs” can rescue us from a terrible fate. 

Even if debt were a legitimate concern, the simple fact is that payroll tax-funded Social Security does not create debt. It pays for itself. Unfunded tax cuts, the purchase of pricey weapons systems with little proven value, or [fill in your favorite wasteful government program here] are better targets for the deficit hawks. In the search for savings, perhaps Congress could start by cutting their own generous pensions, which are several times the average Social Security payment, and which they also get to collect. This would go a long way toward covering the “unacceptable” cost of keeping our older citizens from impoverishment. 

Myth: Social Security’s financial challenges require massive cuts – period!

Truth:  Fairer taxes can solve the “bankruptcy” problem better than any cuts

Scan the growing body of media accounts of the “Social Security crisis” and virtually all suggested solutions lead with a laundry list of program cuts: reduce benefits, raise the eligibility age, implement means testing, etc. Our national obsession with avoiding logical, fairness-based tax reform means the most obvious solutions are either not mentioned or not taken seriously.

What is the logic of “capping” taxable earnings at $137,000, as is currently done? Depending on what changes might be made in program benefits – including increases where warranted – raising the level of taxable earnings would make the program solvent for decades to come. In this era of a great wealth and earnings gap, this change would help reverse the transfer of wealth that has marked the last two decades.

Myth:  Democrats and Republicans are equal Social Security abusers

Truth:  Democrats created and have largely supported SS while Republicans, not so much

There is no better way to discourage people from voting than to convince them that there’s no real difference between the candidates. The technique is even more effective when the same lie is repeated in a hundred different ways so voters don’t know who or what to believe.

The parties’ track record on Social Security could not be clearer. Facing the Depression-driven prevalence of elder poverty and early death, FDR and the Democratic Party created the Social Security system in 1935 to be the primary retirement safety net. Republicans opposed it unsuccessfully at the time, and have criticized it to varying degrees ever since. The arguments and level of intensity have changed, but despite a brief promise by candidate Trump to break the pattern, his current clever assaults on the payroll tax fall firmly within the Republican tradition.   

Myth:  Social Security is a fraction of people’s retirement savings

Truth:  60 million people receive Social Security payments, and it’s the sole income for many

The average monthly payment is a very modest $1,503. The average varies by race and gender, however, with women receiving on average $1,297 per month vs. men’s $1,627; Black women receiving $1,131 per month vs. Black men’s $1,355; and Hispanic women at $999 vs. Hispanic men’s $1,201.

Within these averages there are significant differences in dependence on these payments. Nearly half of Blacks and Hispanics over the age of 65 who receive Social Security rely on it for 90 percent of their income; this is true for less than a third of white recipients. And fully one third—33 percent—of older Blacks and Hispanics are entirely dependent on Social Security for their income—double the 16% of older whites.

According to the National Academy of Social Insurance, without Social Security, about half of older Blacks and Hispanics would have incomes that fell below the poverty line. In fact, even with Social Security, twenty percent are officially impoverished.

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“A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is getting its pants on”

The 2020 Presidential election may be the most important of our lifetimes. Facebook is awash in false claims that thousands will rely on to decide their votes. Our goal is to offer truth and facts about Social Security because its continued existence is on the ballet.

We need your help to reach the voters who will decide whether we continue to have a safety net for aging workers and retirees who have built this country and deserve our support in their fiknal years. Please support our campaign to reach the millions of Facebook users who deserve to know the truth. Twenty dollars will help us reach 50 people with the information they need to make a vote that matters to all our futures. 

You have a lot to gain by continuing to receive Social Security payments. Please invest a part of that by clicking on the link below.

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Support our Campaign by signing the Social Security Pledge at: https://www.respectfulexits.org/act/social-security-pledge/

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