For decades, Americans have known that the ratio of working adults paying into Social Security compared to the retirees collecting Social Security has been changing. If nothing is done, in another 20 years Social Security will not be able to pay full benefits to all those who qualify for them.
The problem may sound intractable, but it is not. That was the message of AARP Senior Vice President John Hishta during a stop in Charleston.
On all his state visits, Hishta said, people say programs such as Social Security and Medicare are important to them and their families. Older people tend to be more worried about their children and grandchildren than themselves. They are concerned that these important sources of retirement income and health care may not be available in the future.
When people begin to look closely at the problem, they can pretty easily see that life has changed since Social Security was created in 1935. People live longer, and it makes sense to many people to raise the retirement age, for example, said Gaylene Miller, director of AARP in West Virginia. But during discussion, other people raise good points about workers who do physically demanding work, who may not be able to make it to age 70, for example, before being able to collect Social Security.
All this conversation is valuable and instructive, because big problems require informed citizens and voters, and compromise.
"If we do nothing at all, everyone's benefits are going to get cut by 25 percent," Hishta said at a forum sponsored by Generation Charleston and AARP.
Hishta and his colleagues are traveling the country, offering concise summaries and opportunities to share ideas and opinions. You can find more online at aarp.org, including analyses of proposals on the Future of Social Security and Medicare.
"I think there has to be a conversation about give and take so the system is there for future generations," he said during Tuesday's forum.
You can even try the "Do-It-Yourself Social Security Fix" calculator on AARP's website.
For example, you can close 99 percent of the pending gap in funds if you raise the tax bar slowly so that salaries and wages subject to taxes rise from $106,000 to $196,000 by 2046; if you add new local public employees to the Social Security system; and if you raise the retirement age from 67 to 70 by 2040.The AARP tour stresses what should be obvious: that problems have solutions. Americans can find them if they look, inform themselves, think and let their elected officials and candidates know they want cures that serve the whole nation, not narrow party interests.