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Facing Up to the Truth About Social Security

Last week I was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in an elite panel on the future of retirement savings, a discussion sponsored by the Aspen Institute. One highly respected expert started talking about investments and savings, noting that along with Social Security, they were the basis of boomer retirement income.

I could barely contain my reaction as I waved my hand to comment:

"If you believe in the Social Security 'Trust Fund,' you must also believe in the tooth fairy!" I said.

There was stunned silence. I suggested that if we were to come up with solutions, we'd have to start from the truth.

And the truth is, this recession has brought the Social Security crisis even closer to the brink. The recent rise in unemployment translates into a sharp drop in payroll "contributions." The problem of the future is now in the present.

Since the late 1980s, the government budget has been combining the "accounting surplus" in the so-called Social Security "trust fund" with the continuing requirements of government spending.

Thus, this year's $1.8 trillion budget deficit, or whatever it turns out to be, is consuming almost every bit of that "surplus" that was supposed to be accumulating to pay baby boomers' retirement benefits!

Open that "shoebox in Maryland" (if you don't understand that expression, you are so young, you will get nothing from Social Security) and all you'll find are paper IOUs from the federal government.

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