Repeat After Me: There’s No Such Thing as Socialsecurityandmedicare

You may see some headlines today that report on a new study showing that boomer retirees will receive way more in Social Security and Medicare benefits than they pay in taxes. But be careful. Technically, that’s true, but it’s like saying the combined population of China and Vietnam is 1.4 billion. It’s true, but all the heavy lifting is being done by China.

In this case, all the heavy lifting is being done by Medicare. According to the latest estimates from the Urban Institute, current workers are paying far less in Medicare payroll taxes than they’ll eventually receive in health benefits when they retire. (Just as current retirees are receiving more benefits today than they paid in taxes during their working lives.) That’s a problem, and it’s the reason we need to focus so much attention on rising health care costs.

But Social Security? It varies a bit depending on whether you’re single or married, but generally speaking taxes and benefits are pretty similar. The chart below shows the Urban Institute’s estimates for workers who will retire in 2030, and it’s pretty obvious that future retirees aren’t getting an especially sweet deal here. They’re just getting back what they put in.

Generally speaking, you’re always being conned when people talk about “entitlements.” That usually means Social Security and Medicare, but they’re very different things. Social Security is fine, and will stay fine with nothing more than tweaks. Medicare is a bigger problem, and it’s the one that needs the most attention.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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