Although I like to consider myself a reasonable distance from retirement, I happen to have an energetic and persistent mother who, between 12-mile hikes in waist-deep snow and bike trips through Canada, lectures me about the evils of the Bush administration.
I should preface this by saying that since she moved to Vermont more than a decade ago, she has morphed into a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, who, despite being in her 70s, is probably this close to being included on former President Nixon's infamous enemies list.
Needless to say, when she visits, I am regaled ad nauseum with such catch-phrases as, "Do you see what your buddy Bush is doing?" Now couple that with a few, "There isn't going to be an environment left after this guy leaves office," and you can more or less gauge my enjoyment level of a three-day stay.
Her real pet peeve, though, is Social Security, which I find sort of ironic, since the nation's first Social Security check was delivered in the quaint Vermont town of Ludlow on a snowy January day some 65 years ago.
In any case, the president is gearing up for another four-year run, during which he has promised to address the current tax code, cut the deficit in half, and, of course, reform Social Security. Wedged somewhere in that "to-do" list, I'm sure, is assembling an exit strategy for Iraq, but I digress.
From the minute I sat down with a financial planner many years ago, after my first child was born, the first thing out of his mouth was to warn me "not to depend on Social Security."
That's probably sage advice. So as I fumbled to secure some semblance of financial security for my family, I left out the projected amounts of any Social Security monies.
I don't pretend to be an expert on the Social Security system, but you don't have to be an economist to discern that there are sinkhole-sized problems that need to be addressed rather quickly. Not the least of which is the ratio of payees to recipients, which, over the years, has dwindled from 16:1 to its current level of 3.3:1. So, what happens when 77 million Baby Boomers begin to retire?
One of the president's oft-used campaign promises was the creation of an "ownership society." And an integral part of that would be the creation of personal retirement accounts, which in theory would give workers more of a say on where they could invest a percentage of their payroll taxes - including some stocks.
Proponents argue that workers would come out ahead, citing the potential for higher returns. Opponents counter by pointing out that exposing Social Security funds to market fluctuations could potentially eradicate their retirement funds. They also estimate that the transition costs - the initial increase in the gap between worker contributions and retiree benefits - to move to this system could land somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion to $2 trillion.
I realize that $1 trillion is a behemoth difference in projections, but few doubt that money would have to be shuttled into the government system to balance the monies being moved into the private accounts. And any way you look at it - now or later - we're going to have to pay. In either case, I'm going to have an elderly mother telling me, "I told you so."
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