Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 66 No. 1

(released September 2005)
by Patricia P. Martin and David A. Weaver

The publication of this article coincides with the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Social Security Act. The history and development of the Social Security program from its inception to the present is discussed. Special attention is given to historical debates that have relevance to today's policy discussions. In particular, the article discusses themes regarding program growth, pay-as-you-go financing, reserve funding, rates of return on payroll contributions, and the adequacy of benefits.

by Hilary Waldron

The Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds reports on the current and projected future financial status of the trust funds annually. The Trustees project trust fund finances 75 years into the future. Mortality is one key demographic assumption that feeds into these long-range projections. This article reviews a range of predictions about long-term mortality improvement and assesses where the Trustees' 75-year mortality projection falls within this range. In general, the predictions of future mortality declines in the 2004 Social Security Trustees Report tend to be in the mainstream of professional actuarial and international official government opinion and to be lower than the majority of the small group of demographers who produce comparable estimates.

by Barbara E. Kritzer

To date, more than 30 countries have established some form of individual accounts in their retirement systems. This article identifies those countries, categorizes how the individual accounts fit into their retirement income systems, and identifies some basic characteristics of the accounts. Because this analysis of individual accounts is intended to inform the current United States debate involving Social Security, the discussion is limited to countries in which such accounts are part or all of a mandatory retirement income program.

by Eric M. Engen, William G. Gale, and Cori E. Uccello

Issues addressed in this article include the adequacy of household retirement saving, controlling for lifetime earnings levels and uncertainty, and the examination of the role of Social Security in bolstering financial security. The authors show that reductions in Social Security benefits could have significant deleterious effects on the adequacy of saving, especially among low-income households. They also show that, controlling for lifetime earnings, households with high current earnings tend to save far more adequately than do other households.

by Kathleen McGarry and Robert F. Schoeni

Out-of-pocket medical costs are concentrated at the end of life. At the same time, poverty is three to four times more common among elderly widows than among similarly aged married women. When the possible relationship between these two facts are explored, out-of-pocket medical spending in the months before death is found to be large relative to income and could thus negatively affect the financial well-being of the surviving spouse. Simulations investigate the extent to which expansions in insurance coverage to include nursing home care, long hospital stays, or prescription drugs could improve the financial outcomes for widow(er)s.