Lifetime Social Security Payouts

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Over at the Tax Policy Center, Gene Steuerle and Stephanie Rennane quote from a CBO report about how total lifetime Social Security payouts are increasing:

In today’s dollars, CBO calculates that a single person born in 1960 (assumed to retire at age 65 in 2025) who earns close to median wages over their lifetime is scheduled to receive approximately $250,000 in lifetime Social Security benefits, while a similar earner born in 2000, expected to retire in 2065, would receive around $420,000.

Does this show how generous Social Security payments have gotten? No. Just the opposite. Real per-capita GDP in 1960 was about $15,000. In 2000 it was $39,000. That’s a 160% increase. Conversely, the real increase in total Social Security payouts over an average lifetime is going up only 70% for retirees born in those two years.

Social Security as a program will cost us more in the future than it does now. Longer lifespans are a small part of the reason, and the fact that the huge baby boom generation is about to retire is a much bigger reason. But lifetime payouts, far from spiraling out of control, are considerably stingier now than in the past. We’re a far richer country than we were in 1960, but average wages haven’t kept up with productivity growth for a long time — and since Social Security payouts are tied to average wages, not economic growth, benefits haven’t kept up with economic growth either. Reducing them even further by raising the retirement age would merely be compounding one injustice with another.

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