2014 OASDI Trustees Report

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C. PROGRAM-SPECIFIC ASSUMPTIONS AND METHODS
The Office of the Chief Actuary at the Social Security Administration uses a set of models to project future income and cost under the OASDI program. These models rely not only on the demographic and economic assumptions described in the previous sections, but also on a number of program-specific assumptions and methods. Values of many program parameters change from year to year as prescribed by formulas set out in the Social Security Act. These program parameters affect the level of payroll taxes collected and the level of benefits paid. The office uses more complex models to project the numbers of future workers covered under OASDI and the levels of their covered earnings, as well as the numbers of future beneficiaries and the expected levels of their benefits. The following subsections provide descriptions of these program-specific assumptions and methods.
1. Automatically Adjusted Program Parameters
The Social Security Act requires that certain parameters affecting the determination of OASDI benefits and taxes be adjusted annually to reflect changes in particular economic measures. Formulas prescribed in the law, applied to reported statistics, change these program parameters annually. The law bases these automatic adjustments on measured changes in the national average wage index (AWI) and the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI).1 This section shows values for program parameters adjusted using these indices from the time that these adjustments became effective through 2023. Projected values for future years depend on the economic assumptions described in the preceding section of this report.
Tables V.C1 and V.C2 present the historical and projected values of the CPI-based benefit increases, the AWI series, and the values of many of the wage-indexed program parameters. Each table shows projections under the three alternative sets of economic assumptions. Table V.C1 includes:
The annual cost-of-living benefit increase percentages. The automatic cost-of-living adjustment provisions in the Social Security Act specify increases in OASDI benefits based on increases in the CPI. In December 2009 and December 2010, there were no cost-of-living adjustments. Cost-of-living adjustments resumed in December 2011. Under all three sets of economic assumptions, the Trustees assume a smooth trend in future price increases, without regard to annual fluctuations that will occur. Therefore, the projections include annual cost-of-living adjustments in all future years.
The annual levels of and percentage increases in the AWI. Under section 215(b)(3) of the Social Security Act, Social Security benefit computations index taxable earnings (for most workers first becoming eligible for benefits in 1979 or later) using the AWI for each year after 1950. This procedure converts a worker’s past earnings to approximately average-wage-indexed equivalent values near the time of his or her benefit eligibility. Other program parameters presented in this section that are subject to the automatic-adjustment provisions also rely on the AWI.
The wage-indexed contribution and benefit base. For any year, the contribution and benefit base is the maximum amount of earnings subject to the OASDI payroll tax and creditable toward benefit computation. The Social Security Act defers any increase in the contribution and benefit base if there is no cost-of-living adjustment effective for December of the preceding year. There was no increase in the contribution and benefit base in 2010 and 2011. Increases resumed in 2012.
The wage-indexed retirement earnings test exempt amounts. The exempt amounts are the annual amount of earnings below which beneficiaries do not have benefits withheld. A lower exempt amount applies in years before normal retirement age. A higher amount applies for the year in which a beneficiary attains normal retirement age. Starting in 2000, the retirement earnings test no longer applies beginning with the month of normal retirement age attainment. The Social Security Act defers any increase in these exempt amounts if there is no cost-of-living adjustment effective for December of the preceding year. There was no increase in these exempt amounts in 2010 and 2011. Increases resumed in 2012.
Cost-of-living
benefit
increasea
(percent)
Average
wage index (AWI)  b

Contribution
and benefit
base c
Under
NRAd
At NRAe
f 2.5
g1.5
g 113,700
g  15,120
g 40,080
g117,000
g15,480
g41,400
g1.5
g$113,700
g  $15,120
g $40,080
g117,000
g15,480
g41,400
g1.5
g113,700
g  15,120
g 40,080
g117,000
g15,480
g41,400

a
Effective with benefits payable for June in each year 1975-82, and for December in each year after 1982.

b
See table VI.G6 for projected dollar amounts of the AWI beyond 2023.

c
Public Law 95-216 specified amounts for 1978-81. Public Law 101-239 changed the indexing procedure and caused slightly higher bases after 1989.

d
Normal retirement age. See table V.C3 for specific values.

e
In 1955-82, the retirement earnings test did not apply at ages 72 and over. In 1983-99, the test did not apply at ages 70 and over. Beginning in 2000, the test does not apply beginning with the month of normal retirement age attainment. In the year of normal retirement age attainment, the higher exempt amount applies to earnings prior to the month of normal retirement age attainment. Public Law 95-216 specified amounts for 1978-82. Public Law 104‑121 specified amounts for 1996-2002.

f
Originally determined as 2.4 percent. Pursuant to Public Law 106-554, effectively 2.5 percent.

g
Actual amount, as determined under automatic-adjustment provisions.

Table V.C2 shows values for other wage-indexed parameters. The table provides historical values from 1978, when indexing of the amount of earnings required for a quarter of coverage first began, through 2014, and also shows projected values through 2023. These other wage-indexed program parameters are:
The bend points in the formula for computing the primary insurance amount (PIA) for workers who reach age 62, become disabled, or die in a given year. As figure V.C1 illustrates, these two bend points define three ranges in a worker’s average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). The formula for the worker’s PIA multiplies a 90, 32, or 15 percent factor by the portion of the worker’s AIME that falls within the three respective ranges, and then adds the resulting products together.
The bend points in the formula for computing the maximum total amount of monthly benefits payable based on the earnings record of a retired or deceased worker (maximum family benefit). As figure V.C2 illustrates, these three bend points define four ranges in a worker’s PIA. The formula for the maximum family benefit multiplies a 150, 272, 134, or 175 percent factor by the portion of the worker’s PIA that falls within the four respective ranges, and then adds the resulting products together.
The amount of earnings required in a year to earn a quarter of coverage (QC). The number and timing of QCs earned determines an individual’s insured status — the basic requirement for benefit eligibility under OASDI.
The old-law contribution and benefit base—the contribution and benefit base that would have been in effect without enactment of the 1977 amendments. This old-law base is used in determining special-minimum benefits for certain workers who have many years of low earnings in covered employment. Since 1986, the calculation of OASDI benefits for certain workers who are eligible to receive pensions based on noncovered employment uses the old-law base. In addition, the Railroad Retirement program and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 use the old-law base for certain purposes.
AIME bend
points in PIA
formula a
PIA bend points
in OASI maximum-
family-benefit formula b
Old-law
contribution
and benefit base c
d
d
d
d
e $250
e $17,700
e $180
e $1,085
e $230
e $332
e $433

a
The formula to compute a PIA is: (1) 90% of AIME below the first bend point; plus (2) 32% of AIME in excess of the first bend point but not in excess of the second; plus (3) 15% of AIME in excess of the second bend point. The bend points are determined based on the first year a beneficiary becomes eligible for benefits.

b
The formula to compute an OASI family maximum is: (1) 150% of PIA below the first bend point; plus (2) 272% of PIA in excess of the first bend point but not in excess of the second; plus (3) 134% of PIA in excess of the second bend point but not in excess of the third; plus (4) 175% of PIA in excess of the third bend point. This formula also determines family maximums for disabled workers first eligible after 1978 and entitled before July 1980.

c
Contribution and benefit base that would have been in effect without enactment of the Social Security Amendments of 1977. Public Law 101-239 changed the indexing procedure and caused slightly higher bases after 1989.

d
No provision in law for this amount in this year.

e
Amount specified by Social Security Amendments of 1977.

In addition to the economic factors that affect the determination of OASDI benefits, there are certain legislated changes that affect current and future benefit amounts. Two such changes are the scheduled increases in the normal retirement age and in the delayed retirement credits. Table V.C3 shows the scheduled changes in these parameters and the resulting effects on benefit levels expressed as a percentage of PIA.
3 1/2
103 1/2
117 1/2
3 1/2
103 1/2
117 1/2
4 1/2
104 1/2
122 1/2
4 1/2
104 1/2
122 1/2
5 1/2
105 1/2
127 1/2
5 1/2
105 1/2
127 1/2
6 1/2
106 1/2
132 1/2
6 1/2
79 1/6
98 8/9
105 5/12
111 11/12
131 5/12
78 1/3
97 7/9
104 2/3
111 2/3
132 2/3
77 1/2
96 2/3
103 1/2
110 1/2
131 1/2
7 1/2
76 2/3
95 5/9
102 1/2
132 1/2
7 1/2
75 5/6
94 4/9
101 1/4
108 3/4
131 1/4
93 1/3
74 1/6
92 2/9
98 8/9
106 2/3
130 2/3
73 1/3
91 1/9
97 7/9
105 1/3
129 1/3
72 1/2
96 2/3
71 2/3
88 8/9
95 5/9
102 2/3
126 2/3
70 5/6
87 7/9
94 4/9
101 1/3
125 1/3
86 2/3
93 1/3
2. Covered Employment
Projections of the total U.S. labor force and unemployment rate (see table V.B2) are based on Bureau of Labor Statistics definitions from the Current Population Survey (CPS). These projections represent the average weekly number of employed and unemployed persons, age 16 and over, in the U.S. in a calendar year. The Office of the Chief Actuary defines the total covered workers in a year as the persons who have any OASDI covered earnings (that is, earnings subject to the OASDI payroll tax) at any time during the year. For those age 16 and over, projected covered employment is the sum of age-sex components, each reflecting the growth projected for the component’s total U.S employment and average weeks worked per year.2For the short-range period, the average weeks worked for each component is assumed to increase during the economic recovery. After 2023, the average weeks worked for each component is assumed to remain constant. The projection method also accounts for changes in non-OASDI-covered employment, the increase in coverage of Federal civilian employment as a result of the 1983 Social Security Amendments, and changes in the number and employment status of other immigrants residing within the Social Security coverage area.
The covered-worker rate is the ratio of OASDI covered workers to the Social Security area population. For men age 16 and over, the projected age-adjusted covered-worker rates3 for 2088 are 70.1, 69.6, and 68.9 percent for the low-cost, intermediate, and high-cost assumptions, respectively. For women age 16 and over, the projected covered-worker rates for 2088 are 65.8, 64.9, and 63.9 percent for the low-cost, intermediate, and high-cost assumptions, respectively. These rates are higher than the 2012 levels of 67.1 percent for males and 60.6 percent for women, due to the assumed decreases in unemployment rates and assumed increase in labor force participation rates.
3. Insured Population
Eligibility for worker benefits under the OASDI program requires some threshold level of work in covered employment. A worker satisfies this requirement by his or her accumulation of quarters of coverage (QCs). Prior to 1978, a worker earned one QC for each calendar quarter in which he or she earned at least $50. In 1978, when annual earnings reporting replaced quarterly reporting, the amount required to earn a QC (up to a maximum of four per year) was set at $250. As specified in the law, the Social Security Administration has adjusted this amount each year since then according to changes in the AWI. Its value in 2014 is $1,200.
There are three types of insured status that a worker can acquire under the OASDI program. The number and recency of QCs earned determine each status. A worker acquires fully insured status when his or her total number of QCs is greater than or equal to the number of years elapsed after the year of attainment of age 21 (but not less than six). Once a worker has accumulated 40 QCs, he or she remains permanently fully insured. A worker acquires disability insured status if he or she is: (1) a fully insured worker who has accumulated 20 QCs during the 40-quarter period ending with the current quarter; (2) a fully insured worker aged 24-30 who has accumulated QCs during one-half of the quarters elapsed after the quarter of attainment of age 21 and up to and including the current quarter; or (3) a fully insured worker under age 24 who has accumulated six QCs during the 12-quarter period ending with the current quarter. A worker acquires currently insured status when he or she has accumulated six QCs during the 13-quarter period ending with the current quarter. Periods of disability reduce the number of quarters required for insured status, but not below the minimum of six QCs.
There are many types of benefits payable to workers and their family members under the OASDI program. A worker must be fully insured to be eligible for a primary retirement benefit and for his or her spouse or children to be eligible for auxiliary benefits. A deceased worker must have been either currently insured or fully insured at the time of death for his or her children (and their mother or father) to be eligible for benefits. If there are no eligible surviving children, the deceased worker must have been fully insured at the time of death for his or her surviving spouse to be eligible. A worker must be disability insured to be eligible for a primary disability benefit and for his or her spouse or children to be eligible for auxiliary benefits.
The Office of the Chief Actuary estimates the fully insured population, as a percentage of the Social Security area population, by single year of age and sex starting in 1969. The short-range model extrapolates the historical trend in these rates from data in the Continuous Work History Sample. The model uses information on quarters of coverage earned due to employment covered by Social Security derived from tabulations of the Continuous Work History Sample. The model also uses historical administrative data on beneficiaries in force and estimated historical mortality rates. The model combines this information to estimate the proportion of individuals who were alive and fully insured as of the end of each historical year. Using projected mortality rates and covered workers, the model extrapolates these rates into the future and applies them to the historical and projected population to arrive at the fully insured population by age and sex through the end of the short-range period.
The long-range fully insured model uses 30,000 simulated work histories for each sex and birth cohort, representing everyone except the other immigrant population. For the other immigrant population, the model generates substantially lower percentages attaining fully insured status. The model constructs simulated work histories using past coverage rates, earnings distributions, and amounts required for crediting QCs, and develops them in a manner that replicates historical individual variations in work patterns. The probability of covered employment in any year is assumed to be higher for those who have worked more consistently in the recent past. Model parameters are selected so that simulated fully insured percentages are consistent with the fully insured percentages estimated by the short-range model for the recent historical period.
The Office of the Chief Actuary estimates the disability insured population, as a percentage of the fully insured population, by age and sex starting in 1970. The office bases historical values on a tabulation of the disability insured population from the Continuous Work History Sample and estimates of the fully insured population. The short-range model projects these percentages by using the relationship between the historical percentages and covered worker rates. The long-range model projects these percentages by using the same simulated work histories used to project the fully insured percentages. The long-range model makes additional adjustments to the model simulations in order to bring the disability insured percentages in the historical and short-range periods into close agreement with those estimated from the Continuous Work History Sample and the short-range model.
The office does not project the currently insured population because the number of beneficiaries who are entitled to benefits based solely on currently insured status has been very small and is likely to remain small in the future.
Using these insured models, the percentage of the Social Security area population aged 62 and over that is fully insured will increase from its estimated level of 83.6 for December 31, 2011, to 88.8, 89.5, and 90.3 for December 31, 2090, under the low-cost, intermediate, and high-cost alternatives, respectively. Over the projection period, the percentage for females increases significantly, reflecting the past substantial growth in the employment of younger cohorts of women. The percentage for males declines to a small degree, reflecting, in part, increases in the percent of the population that is classified as other immigrants and is thus less likely to have earnings reported and credited to them. Under the intermediate assumptions, for example, the percentage for males decreases slightly from 92.3 to 89.4, and the percentage for females increases from 76.5 to 89.6.
4. Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Beneficiaries
The Office of the Chief Actuary projects the number of OASI beneficiaries for each type of benefit separately by the sex of the worker on whose earnings the benefits are based and by the age of the beneficiary. For the long-range period, the office also projects the number of beneficiaries by marital status for several types of benefits. The office uses two separate models in making these projections. The short-range model makes projections during the first 10 years of the projection period and the long-range model makes projections thereafter.
The short-range model develops the number of retired-worker beneficiaries by applying award rates to the aged fully insured population, excluding those already receiving retired-worker, disabled-worker, aged-widow(er)’s, or aged-spouse’s benefits, and by applying termination rates to the number of retired-worker beneficiaries.
The long-range model projects the number of retired-worker beneficiaries who were not previously converted from disabled-worker beneficiary status as a percentage of the exposed population.4 For age 62, the model projects this percentage by using a linear regression based on the historical relationship between this percentage, the labor force participation rate at age 62, and the number of months from age 62 to normal retirement age. The percentage for ages 70 and over is nearly 100 because delayed retirement credits cannot be earned after age 70. The long-range model projects the percentage for each age 63 through 69 based on historical experience with an adjustment for changes in the portion of the primary insurance amount that is payable at each age of entitlement. The model adjusts these percentages for ages 62 through 69 to reflect changes in the normal retirement age.
The long-range model calculates the number of retired-worker beneficiaries previously converted from disabled-worker beneficiary status using an extension of disabled-worker death rates by age, sex, and duration.
The Office of the Chief Actuary estimates the number of aged-spouse beneficiaries, excluding those who are also receiving a retired-worker benefit, from the population projected by age and sex. Benefits of aged-spouse beneficiaries depend on the earnings records of their husbands or wives, who are referred to as “earners.” The short-range model projects insured aged-spouse beneficiaries in conjunction with the retired-worker beneficiaries. This model projects uninsured aged-spouse beneficiaries by applying award rates to the aged uninsured male or female population and by applying termination rates to the population already receiving such benefits.
The long-range model estimates aged-spouse beneficiaries separately for those married and divorced. The model projects the number of married aged-spouse beneficiaries, by age and sex, by applying a series of factors to the number of spouses, aged 62 and over, in the population. These factors are the probabilities that the spouse and the earner meet all of the conditions of eligibility — that is, the probabilities that: (1) the earner is 62 or over; (2) the earner is insured; (3) the earner is receiving benefits; (4) the spouse is not receiving a benefit for the care of an entitled child; (5) the spouse is not insured; and (6) the spouse is not eligible to receive a significant government pension based on earnings in noncovered employment. To calculate the estimated number of aged-spouse beneficiaries, the model applies a projected prevalence rate to the resulting number of spouses.
The long-range model estimates the number of divorced aged-spouse beneficiaries, by age and sex, by applying the same factors to the number of divorced persons aged 62 and over in the population, with three differences. First, the model applies a factor to reflect the probability that the earner (former spouse) is still alive. If the former spouse is not alive, the person may be entitled to a divorced widow(er)’s benefit. Second, the model applies a factor to reflect the probability that the marriage to the former spouse lasted at least 10 years. Third, the model does not apply factor (3) in the previous paragraph because, effective January 1985, a divorced person is generally no longer required to wait for the former spouse to receive benefits.
The Office of the Chief Actuary bases the projected numbers of children under age 18, and students aged 18 and 19, who are eligible for benefits as children of retired-worker beneficiaries, on the projected number of children in the population. The short-range model develops the number of entitled children by applying award rates to the number of children in the population who have two living parents and by applying termination rates to the number of children already receiving benefits.
The long-range model projects separately the number of entitled children by sex of the earner parent. For each age under 18, the model multiplies the projected number of children with a parent aged 62 and over by the ratio of the number of retired workers aged 62 to 71 to the number of members of the population aged 62 to 71. For student beneficiaries, the model multiplies the number of children aged 18 and 19 in the population by the probabilities that: (1) the parent is alive, aged 62 or over, insured, and receiving a retired-worker benefit; and (2) the child is attending high school.
The Office of the Chief Actuary projects the number of disabled children, aged 18 and over, of retired-worker beneficiaries from the adult population. The short-range model applies award rates to the population and applies termination rates to the number of disabled children already receiving benefits. The long-range model projects the number of disabled children in a manner similar to that used for student children except for a factor that reflects the probability of being disabled before age 22.
The short-range model develops the number of spouses of retired workers, who are entitled to spouse benefits because they are caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled, by applying award rates to the number of awards to children of retired workers and by applying termination rates to the number of young spouses with a child in their care who are already receiving benefits. The long-range model projects the number of young-spouse beneficiaries with a child in their care as a proportion of the number of child beneficiaries of retired workers, including projected changes in average family size.
The Office of the Chief Actuary projects the number of aged-widow(er) beneficiaries, excluding those who are also receiving a retired-worker benefit, from the population by age and sex. The short-range model projects fully insured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries in conjunction with the retired-worker beneficiaries. The model projects the number of uninsured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries by applying award rates to the aged uninsured male or female population and by applying termination rates to the population already receiving such benefits. The long-range model projects uninsured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries by marital status. The model multiplies the number of widow(er)s in the population aged 60 and over by the probabilities that: (1) the deceased earner is fully insured at death; (2) the widow(er) is not receiving a benefit for the care of an entitled child; (3) the widow(er) is not fully insured; and (4) the widow(er)’s benefits are not withheld because of receipt of a significant government pension based on earnings in noncovered employment. In addition, the model applies the same factors to the number of divorced persons aged 60 and over in the population and includes additional factors representing the probability that the person’s former earner spouse has died and that the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The model projects the number of insured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries who are ages 60 through 70 in a manner similar to that for uninsured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries. In addition, the model assumes that some insured widow(er)s who had not applied for their retired-worker benefits will receive widow(er)’s benefits. The model projects insured aged-widow(er) beneficiaries over age 70 by applying termination rates to the population that started receiving such benefits prior to age 70.
The short-range model develops the number of disabled-widow(er) beneficiaries by applying award rates to the uninsured male or female population and by applying termination rates to the population already receiving a disabled-widow(er) benefit. The long-range model projects the number for each cohort by age from 50 to normal retirement age as percentages of the widowed and divorced populations, adjusted for the insured status of the deceased spouse, the prevalence of disability, and the probability that the disabled spouse is not receiving another type of benefit.
The Office of the Chief Actuary bases the projected number of children under age 18, and students aged 18 and 19, who are entitled to benefits as survivors of deceased workers, on the number of children in the population whose mothers or fathers are deceased. The short-range model develops the number of entitled children by applying award rates to the number of orphaned children and by applying termination rates to the number of children already receiving benefits.
The long-range model projects the number of child-survivor beneficiaries in a manner similar to that for student beneficiaries of retired workers, except that the model replaces the probability that the parent is aged 62 or over with the probability that the parent is deceased.
The Office of the Chief Actuary projects the number of disabled-child-survivor beneficiaries, aged 18 and over, from the adult population. The short-range model applies award rates to the population and applies termination rates to the number of disabled-child-survivor beneficiaries already receiving benefits. The long-range model projects the number of disabled-child-survivor beneficiaries in a manner similar to that for student-child-survivor beneficiaries, except for including an additional factor to reflect the probability of being disabled before age 22.
The short-range model develops the numbers of entitled mother-survivor and father-survivor beneficiaries by applying award rates to the number of awards to child-survivor beneficiaries, in cases where the children are either under age 16 or disabled, and by applying termination rates to the number of mother-survivors and father-survivors already receiving benefits. The long-range model estimates the numbers of mother-survivor and father-survivor beneficiaries, assuming they are not remarried, from the number of child-survivor beneficiaries.
The Office of the Chief Actuary projects the number of parent-survivor beneficiaries based on the historical pattern of the number of such beneficiaries.
Table V.C4 shows the projected number of beneficiaries under the OASI program by type of benefit. The retired worker beneficiary counts include those persons who receive a residual auxiliary benefit in addition to their retired-worker benefit. The office makes estimates of the number and amount of residual payments separately for spouses and widow(er)s.
Workera
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