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The Future of Social Security: 12 Proposals You Should Know About

Pros and cons of options on the table in Washington

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Increase Number of Years Used to Calculate Initial Benefits

Social Security retirement benefits are based on a worker’s average earnings history. Average earnings are computed from a worker’s highest 35 years of annual indexed earnings that were subject to Social Security payroll taxes. If a worker has fewer than 35 years of earnings, each year needed to reach 35 is assigned zero earnings. One option to help close the Social Security funding gap would increase the number of years of earnings used to calculate Social Security benefits from 35 to 38 or even 40. Because that method would typically include more years of lower earnings, the average earnings would decrease and benefits would be lower. Increasing the number of computation years to 38 is estimated to fill 13 percent of the solvency gap.

PRO: Increasing the number of years an individual must work to qualify for full Social Security benefits recognizes that most people are living and working longer than they did in the past. Today’s method produces a skewed picture of an individual’s full employment history and inaccurate Social Security benefits. Adding more years would encourage younger people to start working sooner, and the resulting small benefit changes would help to preserve Social Security for everyone. (David John, Heritage Foundation)

CON:This proposal would reduce benefits the most for people who need them most: women and lower-income, less-educated and minority retirees. It would reduce benefits not only for retired workers, but also for their dependents and survivors. Social Security benefits are modest and are already being cut as the retirement age goes up. We can afford to preserve, improve and pay for the Social Security benefits that today’s workers are earning with their Social Security taxes. (Virginia Reno, National Academy of Social Insurance)

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