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REPORT: Fixing Social Security: Adequate Benefits, Adequate Financing

By: Virginia P. Reno and Joni Lavery
Published: October 2009

The purpose of this report is to help analysts, policymakers, journalists, constituent organizations, and interested citizens consider how to bring Social Security into long-range balance in ways that address concerns about benefit adequacy. The report outlines approximately 30 options for putting Social Security's finances into 75-year balance and more than 10 ways to make Social Security more adequate for those who rely on it. All options have long-range cost estimates from Social Security actuaries. Benefit adequacy options in the report target such financially vulnerable groups as:

  • The oldest beneficiaries (over 85 years);
  • Widowed spouses of low-earning couples;
  • Low-paid workers generally;
  • Workers with gaps in paid work due to childcare; and
  • Students in college or vocational school who have lost parental support due to death or disability.

Other adequacy options would increase benefits across the board for current and future beneficiaries. Options to balance Social Security's future finances include:

  • Lifting the cap (now $106,800) on the earnings from which workers and employers pay Social Security taxes;
  • Broadening the base for Social Security taxes;
  • Scheduling modest rate increases in the future when funds will be needed;
  • Dedicating progressive taxes to pay part of Social Security's future cost; and
  • Gradually lowering some future benefits.

The NASI project received support from the Ford Foundation's initiative on Economic Fairness and Opportunity and the Rockefeller Foundation's Campaign for American Workers. View a webcast of the briefing releasing this report.