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As Social Security turns 80, what does its future hold?

Three USC experts discuss the retirement system, which was signed into law Aug. 14, 1935

Social Security card illustration
(Illustration by DonkeyHotey via Flickr)

On this day 80 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, creating a public retirement system for millions of Americans.

Since then, Social Security has become a primary source of income for retired, aging citizens, and provided support to dependents, family members who have lost loved ones, and disabled Americans. In 2014, more than 59 million people received $863 billion in benefits from the program.

However, its capacity to support such numbers for generations to come is often the subject of political debate.

Is Social Security in need of an overhaul?

Paul Ginsburg

“Social Security has accomplished a great deal in providing financial security for multiple generations, but it has solvency issues that need to be addressed.

“If addressed now, the changes are moderate and need not affect those already retired. But if our political leaders continue to kick this can down the road, the changes needed to preserve solvency are likely to be painful and disruptive of people’s planning.”

Paul Ginsburg
Director of public policy for the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics

Will Social Security exist for younger Americans?

Arie Kapteyn

“Social Security is providing an essential safety net for Americans and has now done so for eight decades. Without it, an additional one third of older Americans would live in poverty. It is an example of an efficient and highly effective government program.

“Like any successful undertaking, one needs to be open to timely course corrections, which in this case would relate to future solvability. Although this merits attention, it is hard to imagine that the basic structure would change dramatically in the decades to come.”

Arie Kapteyn
Executive director of the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research and economics professor in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Is Social Security fulfilling its mission?

Julie Zissimopoulos

“Social Security today, as in the past, helps provide financial security to Americans both young and old. Population aging obliges us, as a society, to evaluate how well the program is fulfilling its mission.

“Fortunately, research and empirical evidence can assist policymakers in evaluating how well the program is fulfilling it goals and what changes may be needed to ensure Social Security continues to provide financial security to future generations.”

Julie Zissimopoulos
Associate director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and an assistant professor in the USC  Price School of Public Policy

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As Social Security turns 80, what does its future hold?

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