For any of you citizens who are absolutely freaked out about the escalating federal deficit, a story in Monday's USA Today should cause you to shudder.
The paper reports that Social Security's annual surplus nearly evaporated last year for the first time in 25 years as the recession led hundreds of thousands of workers to retire or claim disability.
"Things are a little bit worse than had been expected," says Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration. "Clearly, we're going to be negative for a year or two."
"The moment of truth has arrived," says Rep. Paul Ryan R-Wis., top Republican on the House Budget Committee. "This is a wake-up call."
Since 1984, Social Security has raked in more in payroll taxes than it has paid in benefits, accumulating a $2.5 trillion trust fund. But because the government uses the trust fund to pay for other programs, tax increases, spending cuts or new borrowing will be required to make up the difference between taxes collected and benefits owed.
Experts say the trend points to a more basic problem for Social Security: looming retirements by Baby Boomers will create annual losses beginning in 2016 or 2017.
But will anything be done about that? As I blogged earlier on Monday, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on Meet the Press said that in addition to raising taxes, Congress needs to look at ways to deal with Social Security. But he said that it's obvious that nobody in elected office wants to touch the "third rail" of American politics, to our detriment.