Some lawmakers are saying that Social Security is facing a crisis. The Senate Budget Committee recently held a hearing on “The Coming Crisis: Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency;” today, a House subcommittee is holding a hearing on the “looming insolvency of the Disability Insurance program.”
Sounds scary—and that’s the idea. Cuts to Social Security benefits are really unpopular; in fact, a large majority of Americans supports increases in Social Security benefits and increases in taxes to pay for them. But some lawmakers want to cut benefits. Manufacturing a crisis and pitting groups against each other—young against old, retirees against people with disabilities—just might make it possible to push benefit cuts through.
So as the debate heats up over Social Security—and specifically Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)—here are a few things you should know.
- With women’s earnings more important to their families than ever before, so is the disability insurance that women earn through Social Security. For 4.3 million women who can no longer work after a serious disability, the modest income they receive from SSDI is a lifeline for them and their families.
- In 1990, men were nearly twice as likely as women to receive SSDI payments. Now, because of women’s increased employment, their numbers are nearly equal.
- When some lawmakers point to the increase in DI recipients in recent years, and say that shows the program is out of control and has to be cut, just remember—women account for a lot of that increase. Much of the rest is from other predicted demographic factors, such as the growth in the total labor force and the aging of the baby boomers into their disability-prone years.
- The DI program, part of Social Security’s integrated family insurance plan, is financed by a portion of Social Security payroll taxes that go into the DI Trust Fund. In 2016, the DI Trust Fund will be exhausted and revenues coming into the DI program will only cover 80 percent of benefits after that. If Congress allowed that to happen, that would be a disaster for people with disabilities. But the exhaustion of the DI Trust Fund is a manufactured crisis because there’s an easy solution: Congress can rebalance Social Security’s two Trust Funds, as it has done 11 times before—and in both directions. The combined Trust Funds hold $2.8 trillion in assets: enough to pay 100 percent of all promised benefits until 2033—and over 75 percent of benefits after that, even if Congress did nothing else.
- That would give Congress plenty of time to come up with a plan to strengthen Social Security and enhance benefits. Here are a few ideas: require high earners to pay Social Security taxes on all their earnings; close the gender pay gap; and reduce income inequality.