Though the author’s sympathies lean heavily towards doing nothing about SS, there’s an excellent history of the program at the NYT.
The article also makes clear that each generation receives more benefits than the previous generation, due to the link to inflation-adjusted wage growth. Seeing the program lift the elderly out of poverty is well enough, but at some point it would make sense to simply link it to inflation to minimize the burden to younger generations. The elderly would keep their current purchasing power and taxes could be reduced (or would be less than they otherwise might). In fact, this whole controversey could probably be done away with—and private accounts ignored—with this one simple change. Here’s the relevant graf:
Since wages generally rise faster than inflation, retirees in each generation get more in real dollars than those in previous ones. Contemporary critics, like Kasich and the Bush council, would slow the rate of future increases by linking benefits only to inflation. Though this would save a lot of money, its effect on retirees should be understood.As a means of lifting the elderly out of poverty, SS has succeeded quite nicely. Not increasing the burden on future generations of workers would be a big improvement over the current situation.
Seniors now get an initial benefit that is tied to a fixed portion of their pre-retirement wages. If the index was changed, their pensions would be pegged to a fixed portion of a previous generation’s income. If this standard had been in force since the beginning, retirees today would be living like those in the 1940’s—like Ida Fuller, which would mean $300 a month in today’s dollars, as opposed to roughly $1,200 a month.