Back when I was a poor college student, I got into a debate with a classmate about the social security system. He believed that we should do away with social security, that it was a forced retirement savings program, and that individuals should be trusted to make their own arrangements for retirement.
To say that he and I were coming from two very different places would be an understatement.
He was a young, single student, who might have had a part-time job to earn some extra income, but he lived in the dorms and had no responsibility other than, perhaps, getting to his job on time, and getting to class.
I was a young, married student with an infant son. I worked part-time, and every penny I earned went to cover my daily living expenses. Every day was a financial struggle, and I couldn't imagine having enough money left at the end of the paycheck to put some aside for my retirement. If the government weren't taking out that money, I'd spend it - that much I knew. I was counting on the government to keep that money safe for me so that when I retired I'd have some income on which to support myself.
Fast forward many years, and I'm no longer young, but I am married with children. I've earned my college degree. I've worked many full-time, career-track jobs, and I still struggle to put money aside for retirement, but I no longer believe, as I did when I was twenty, that social security is the buffer we are told it is.
News articles, like this one I read today with the headline: Social Security Disability on the Verge of Insolvency, only reinforce what that young man was trying to make us all understand. We all pay into this social security account, and when we reach retirement age or in the event that we become unable to work, we are eligible to draw from that account.
That's the theory of how it works, but the reality is that our government is TRILLION$ of dollars in debt, and they've been dipping into the social security savings accounts for decades to pay the bills. We keep paying into it, and they keep spending it as fast as it comes in.
If it were just a simple matter of the government living paycheck-to-paycheck - with the assumption that the paycheck would always be the same amount and would never stop coming, then, perhaps, it would be okay, but that's not the case either, because the paycheck is neither very secure these days, nor is it going to continue being the same amount.
The fact is that our population is aging, and we're getting top heavy. Life expectancies are longer today than ever, and the largest portion of our population is the Baby Boomers, who are all reaching retirement age. What this means is that over the next ten years or so, most of the people living in the US will be retired and drawing from social security funds for an average of fifteen years each.
Compound that with the fact that the largest demographic of unemployed at the present time are the 18 to 25 year old group. Those are the people who will be supporting MY generation when we retire, but they are not currently paying anything into the system.
I think back on the day of that debate, and how naive I was at that time. My classmate had it right - that we should, as individuals, be responsible for our own retirement, and not leave it to the government. I don't know if he anticipated what has happened, but I do know that in twenty-something years, when I reach retirement age, there won't be any funds available to me, regardless of the fact that I've paid into them.
And I'll need to have made some other plan for when I can no longer work - because I'm not counting on the government being there to support me.