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Strengthening Social Security for the Long Run

By: Janice M. Gregory, Thomas N. Bethell, Virginia P. Reno, and Benjamin W. Veghte
Published: November 2010

Summary: In policy discussions regarding the long-term financing of Social Security, the reforms enacted in 1983 often are held up as a model of balanced political compromise. But that is not exactly what happened. Only the short-term reforms, aimed at getting the program safely through the 1980s, contained a mix of changes that affected contributors and beneficiaries more or less evenly. The piece that Congress added to address the remaining long-term shortfall was not a compromise: it was solely a benefit cut that is still being phased in today. This brief describes the actions taken in 1983; examines why there is growing concern about the inadequacy of Social Security benefits going forward; documents the strong public support for maintaining and improving the program; suggests some ways in which benefit adequacy can be modestly enhanced at affordable cost; and outlines an example of a 75-year financing plan to strengthen Social Security for the long run.