Finley: Darn. I may outlive Social Security
I've got to quick go see my doctor.
For years he's had me on a health maintenance plan with the goal, he says, of keeping me alive until I'm 90.
Now I need him to ease back on the medicine and good living advice. I'm not sure my money will hold out that long.
News out this week that both Social Security and Medicare have accelerated their race toward the brick wall of insolvency should have us all worried the resources we've counted on to carry us through retirement will peter out before we do.
This week we learned Social Security will spend more than it collects this year for the first time since 1983. Unless trends change, the new go-bust date for the retirement program is 2034.
That's just 16 years from now. I'll be 79, and hope I'll have a few years left, though I doubt I'll be in shape to go job hunting.
Even worse news is that Medicare, the retiree health care program, will be spent out by 2026 -- I may not even be retired yet.
As maddening as that prospect is for someone who has been paying into both systems for a half-century, I feel for the generations behind me. I've still got a shot at getting some of my money back. There seems no chance they'll ever collect anything.
Given the vast number of Baby Boomers heading into retirement, you'd think these doomsday reports would trigger a panic response from Washington.
Congress hasn't moved to shore up Social Security for 35 years, despite continuous warnings of its demise. Back then, President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill brokered a compromise to raise the full-benefits retirement age to 67 from 65 in slow steps, and government employees were required to pay into the system for the first time.
That postponed the solvency crisis for a couple of generations, but it didn't bring Social Security to permanent sustainability.
Since then, Social Security has infamously earned the third rail title -- touching it is believed to be political suicide.
Democrats will not hear of any further benefit restrictions, instead calling for extending or removing the cap on Social Security taxes for high earners.
Republicans eschew the tax hike, rightly seeing it as a major wealth transfer that would remove any pretense that Social Security is something other than a middle class welfare program.
They believe economic growth will spare Social Security. And yet they balk at increasing immigration to build a broader base of workers paying into the system.
So nothing gets done. And nothing will until the day Nana or Papa shows up at the bank with a check that won't cash.
Fixing Social Security for good is not likely at this point. That would require a massive investment to convert the system to a private savings program that would allow individuals to build and keep their own wealth.
But we do need another patch, and soon. That means raising the retirement age once again to reflect lengthening life spans, and hiking the tax on everyone. And, of course, forcing the federal government to keep its hands off any surpluses the system generates.
Get on that, Congress, or I'll have to take up cigarettes. I don't relish the thought of starting over as a cub reporter when I'm 80.
Catch The Nolan Finley Show weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.