With a headline-grabber that should be familiar to us all by now, Social Security trustees reported Monday that the program's trust fund will be totally depleted by 2033, three years earlier than they previously thought. But this estimated end date has been making a slow march toward the present for years now, so if it puts you into a panic, it's one you probably should have been in already. The reason it keeps inspiring fear is that the economy continues to struggle, so there remain unemployed people who don't pay into the trust even as others draw on it earlier than they thought they might. So yes, the trust is draining faster than they thought it was at this point last year.
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The stories are familiar. "Social Security, Medicare Face Insolvency Sooner," reads a 2009 Wall Street Journal headline, putting the date at 2037 ("four years earlier than last year's report predicted.") In 2010 the estimate was the same, 2037. In 2011, the trustees wrote, "The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2036 – one year sooner than projected last year."
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So at this point, to the layman, it feels like a revised estimate is almost inevitable. But the story would perhaps serve a purpose if it spurred politicians to figure out just what they'll do when the fund disappears (or how to prevent it from disappearing) though it hasn't managed to accomplish that in the past. Perhaps if the presidential candidates pick up on it to highlight their different approaches ... Bloomberg notes Social Security is a "central issue in the election-year debate" so maybe the headline will get more traction than usual. Meanwhile, Business Insider rather sunnily thinks we shouldn't be freaking out at all, so there's that to hold you over until next year's estimate.