At the start of the 1900s, the average U.S. life expectancy was 48 years. But wonderful advances in medical science, nutrition and safety keep extending the lifespan. Look how many Gazette obituaries feature people in their 80s and 90s, even 100s.
The longer people live, the longer they collect retirement pensions -- and the more they drain pension reserves. That's what's happening to Social Security, the bulwark of America's safety net, serving 55 million people, mostly seniors.
Last week, trustees predicted that Social Security reserves will be depleted by 2033, and Medicare will hit the rocks by 2024. The new report jolted Washington. Many leaders called for emergency repairs.
Conservatives -- who have begrudged the national pension system ever since it was created by the Democratic New Deal in the 1930s -- want to curtail Social Security or turn it into privatized investments handled by Wall Street. Some liberals propose adding more revenue by lifting the cap that halts collection of the withholding tax when incomes pass $110,000.
Other possible cures include increasing the Social Security tax on workers, or raising the retirement age beyond the current 67.
To stimulate the economy, Democrats in Congress temporarily cut the withholding tax in half, giving 160 million working Americans a $1,000 annual boost. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wouldn't support this plan, because it siphoned money away from Social Security. Obviously, the temporary reduction couldn't be made permanent, unless a major source of new funding is found.
We have another suggestion: Downsize America's trillion-dollar military machine and apply part of the savings to the shriveling Social Security trust fund.
As we've said often, it's absurd to force U.S. taxpayers to support gigantic warmaking capacity, when other modern democracies spend far less. Wars are diminishing drastically. Today's enemies consist mostly of hidden fanatics. Huge armies, navies and air forces are useless against them. Killer drones and commando teams are enough.Sustaining the safety net for 55 million aging Americans is more important than creating more unneeded hydrogen bombs and nuclear missile submarines. Shift America's priorities, and the Social Security dilemma will evaporate.