burning ss card
This was depressingly predictable now that the Social Security Trustees report it out. The media (that includes you, Kevin Drum) got this story all wrong. Let's just take Reuters for a typical example.
Aging baby boomers got some jolting news on Monday when the U.S. government said the Social Security retirement program is on track to go bankrupt three years earlier than expected if reforms are not made.
I think bankrupt doesn't mean what this reporter (well, any Social Security reporter) seems to think it means. It means out of money. Full stop. It does not mean that for a period of time that you've planned for, you're spending more than you take in. The federal government and particularly Social Security has this thing called a trust fund where there's savings. And then there's the part that after 2033, Social Security will still not be all out of money, (unless the Republicans and their Very Serious compatriots manage to succeed in killing it) and it will still be about to provide about 75 percent of benefits earned.
The baby boomers—those 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964—started retiring last year. With 10,000 of them expected to retire every day for the next 19 years, according to the Pew Research Center, they will increasingly strain Social Security.
Zombie lie alert! There are so many baby boomers retiring in the next two decades, they'll suck up all the money! Yeah, no. Let's go back to that trust fund and the $2.7 trillion surplus the program has (how come that never shows up in press reports in Social Security?) and the fact that the retirement of the baby boomers was planned for. Baby boomers retiring is not coming as a surprise to anyone. (Except Social Security Trustee and Koch-sponsored concern troll Charles Blahous, who screeches to Reuters, "Never since the 1983 reforms have we come as close to the point of trust-fund depletion as we are right now." Which also isn't true. In 1994 the trustees said it would happen in 2029.)

Then we get to the "fixes."

An alternative, in order to keep payments at 100 percent, would be to raise the payroll tax on employers and employees to 16.7 percent from its regular 12.4 percent rate.

Members of Congress also have mulled raising the retirement age or cutting some benefits to the wealthy. But no action is expected before the November elections.

You know what else is an alternative? Lifting the damned payroll tax cap, so that people making more than $110,000 annually have to payroll taxes on that income, too. People like, oh, say Mitt Romney, who made $27 million in 2010 and now pays exactly the same into Social Security as someone making $109,000. That has to end. Granted, old people wouldn't have to suffer a cut in benefits, put more "skin in the game," with that fix. Which is why the Very Serious People and their stenographers in the press seem to always ignore it.

Ironically, Reuters columnist Mark Miller warned his traditional media brethren about all of the pitfalls of reporting on Social Security that the Reuters report includes. Unfortunately, he penned his column too late to influence his Reuters coworker.

The sad part is, this kind of journalistic malpractice is the rule rather than the exception when it comes to Social Security. The way lies proliferate in these stories makes it almost as bad as the Iraq War reporting. It's the norm, as Columbia Journalism Review's Trudy Lieberman writes:

For nearly three years CJR has observed that much of the press has reported only one side of this story using “facts” that are misleading or flat-out wrong while ignoring others. Whatever the reason—ideology, poor understanding of how the program works, gullibility, or plain old reportorial laziness—news outlets have given the public a skewed picture of the financial health of this hugely important program, which is the sole source of retirement funds for millions of Americans and will continue to be for decades to come.
That skewed picture of Social Security is exactly what the Right has been working on for years and years. The only way they can finally kill this very popular program is to make people think it's doomed. The stenographers in the traditional media are only too happy to help them send that message. And the Very Serious People parrot whatever they read in the "real" news and here we are. Supposed "liberals" are joining the gloom and doom pain caucus.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 02:48 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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