Social Security Full Fiscal Year Results – Flash Report

Bruce Krasting's picture

In Washington, almost every report is late. The exception is Social Security. They have their numbers for September posted as of today. The folks in D.C. run their clocks on a fiscal year that ends in September. The following are the results and YoY comparisons for fiscal 2010 and 2011 for SS.

Both the top line revenue and benefit expenses rose over the year. It’s not surprising to see that the pace of payouts is continuing to outstrip the rate of revenue growth.

It should be noted that the $24.3b of increased payments is not a result of a COLA (inflation) adjustment. There has been no inflation adjusted increases in the past two years for SS. The higher 2011 payout is exclusively the result of more retiring workers becoming eligible for benefits. The number of new beneficiaries is now growing by 10,000 a day, 7 days a week. That number is going up in fiscal 2012. It will go up every year for the next 14 (The boomers are coming on fast and steady).

I believe that there will be a COLA adjustment for 2012. I estimate ~2%. The inflation adjustment and the aging population will result in an increase in benefit payments next year of ~$40 billion (5.7%). With revenues rising much less than that, the red ink at SS is going to rise next year and for as far as I can see into the future.

What matters (to me) is cash flow. On the critical measure of FICA tax revenues minus Benefits the number comes up negative. For 2011 it will be $57.9 B in deficit. That compares to the red ink a year before that was (only) $47.2B.

The other Cash components that I am estimating for fiscal 2011 include:

Tax on Benefits = +$23b
RR retirement = -$5b
Overhead = -$7b

The sum of all the cash components brings the annual number to -$46.9b versus 2010’s -$36.2. Clearly, things are continuing to head the wrong way at the SSTF

Interest Income is a component of the picture that is not paid in cash. It is paid in script. I expect this number to be $114b. When the "paper" is included in the calculation it will look as if (and be reported as such) that there is a net surplus of $67.1b. I think this is deceiving.  The Headline will read “Surplus”,  but the reality is that SS is just a drain on us today. It is just a larger promise that has to be kept tomorrow.

For those who “Cheer” a surplus that includes phony interest I point out that in 2006/2007 the surplus was $190b and in 2008 (just 3 years ago) it was $180b. 2011 shows a significant slowdown. The Surplus will have fallen by 2/3rds from that recorded in 2007 (before TSHTF). In a matter of a few short years (and way ahead of the current forecasts) there will be no surplus at all. Not even one made out of confetti.

There are significant adjustments that have been made to the 2010/11 numbers. These represent re-statements of prior years estimates. The adjustment amount in 2010 came to a -$26b. So far in 2011 only $14bn has been recorded.  Of the $13.6b  of improved tax receipts in 2011, approximately $9b comes from changes in YoY adjustments. In other words, the apples to apples comparison of revenues is only +$4.0b (0.6%).

The annual adjustments to income cloud the results at SS. My conclusion is that on a straight comparison basis there is very little YoY change in revenues at SS. The implication is that there is little growth in total payrolls and there is little growth in wages. That’s not surprising at all. I expect that this will show up in the next few months of NFP numbers. I would, as a rule, take the “Under” on all those estimates.

There is one interesting thing to consider with SS.  They have this paper surplus called a Trust Fund. That Trust Fund earns paper interest. Lots of it. At the end of the year that fund will total $2.65 trillion. It will have an investment average maturity of 7 years. The rate of interest paid to SS is currently 4.25%.

Now consider that the Treasury yields today for 7 years is a measly 1.58%. The difference of 2.67% comes to a whopping $70 billion a year in “excess” interest being paid to SS.

If one applied this same thinking to SS’s sisters, (the Military and Federal Workers Funds) it comes to ~$4T of principal that we are (over) paying interest on. The excess interest on the whole mess that is referred to as the “Federal Pension Obligations” comes to a very important $100+ billion. Every Year!

I’m not sure what to make of this. Clearly society is providing a significant ON BUDGET subsidy to these programs (this alone is 7% of the deficit). At a time when everything else is getting ReFi-ed at lower rates (and savers are getting creamed on their holdings) there should be a discussion of the biggest ReFi of them all, the federal Trust Funds.


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Gene Parmesan's picture

Time will tell which group ends up stuck with the problem.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

You're stuck in any case.  If you think that SS will be ended and your tax burden will be reduced, you are smoking whacky weed.  The next 25 years are going to be tough for you, so buck up.  Just remember, my property taxes paid for your "free" schooling through the 12th grade.  Did I pay for your schooling because each of you Reagan babies is a unique snowflake created by G-d?  Nope.

Gene Parmesan's picture

You really think the system as we know it is going to last another 25 years? I don't.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Gene, tell you what, just keep paying while the current system is in place.  After that I'll see you at the constitutional convention.  I'll be the guy proposing SS as a G-d given right.  I'll be sitting with several million old people.

Greater Fool's picture

I sort of agree, but in the end it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the following three changes to the SS system will have to be made in time:

  • Increase in retirement age to a limit where a noticeable proportion of SS contributors are unlikely to live that long.
  • Removal of the cap for the income basis on which SS taxes are calculated.
  • Asset tests of some sort for recipients, and graduated payouts on the basis of that test.

I propose this not because it will help me personally--on any of the three scores--but because SS is the second-worst structural problem with US cash flows (Medicare is far worse), and because it really would break my heart to see the seventy-somethings out picking through trash to find their dinners. And, basically, those are the alternatives.

boiltherich's picture

I can go along with the raising of the caps to include any and all income even on unearned financial income and capital gains.  Why do we make a gift of that funding to the wealthy?  And a means test I would also support as long as it does not exclude payments to anyone, every person who has paid in should get something back or the promises are broken. 

The retirement age is more difficult to go along with for me because it is a slippery slope that will likely end with the transformation of the program to one where retirement itself as a concept is seen as an unaffordable luxury which the right is busy rebranding as a communist plot to tax "their" money.  I can acquiesce to the raising of the retirement age they have already enacted in law, it is modest, graduated, and after all we are living longer and healthier lives.  But to keep raising it till the program essentially says you will work till you cannot work another day is to make it strictly a disability program.  And that is just another form of default.  It just defaults on debts that will destroy people while preserving the credit rating, a sort of neutron bond default, kill all the old people and leave the credit rating standing. 

You are right about Medicare (and it's evil twin Medicaid) and I would go further and say all private for profit healthcare insurance.  It is bankrupting not just the government but the whole economy.  Healthcare is now eating 20% of GDP and that far above any other single thing in our society is going to destroy the country if not corrected.  And you do not correct the problem by rationing care to only those with the money to fly to Switzerland for their care, you do it by nationalizing the system, healthcare is absolute proof that market forces by themselves serve nobody but the greedy fuckers who run it.  Artificial shortages, redundant bone palaces, and a complete lack of competition in pricing and service delivery.  And the funniest part of all in that can of worms is that nationalization would free business of it's largest single expense in overhead and employing people yet the right is more passionate about private for obscene profit healthcare than they are about even taxation.  A well run VA style healthcare system could be delivered for half what we now pay for care for the same or better results.  Those that defend the current system refuse to admit that while it is all nice and clean and new and pretty it also delivers lower longevity and higher infant mortality than even Cuba, one of the poorest nations on the planet.

In a battle of wills that will certainly grow as the boomers age the power will shift from those with the bread to those with the numbers. 

Gene Parmesan's picture

SS as a god given right? In that case I'll be the one handing out cat food and warm blankets.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

That's fine as long as you understand that if your job distributing cat food and blankets (an odd niche to be sure) doesn't cover my SS payments you'll have to be enrolled in the Jobs for America program.  My shoes aren't going to shine themselves, you know.

Gene Parmesan's picture

Hey, I come from a long line of proud cat food and blanket distributors.

boiltherich's picture

I did not say you were a total cretin, I just said your dogged refusal to argue in good faith was not worthy of ZH.  SS will be made good on, and it will come from those with assets to pay because A) that is where the money is and B) the only reason why the trust fund was tapped in the first place was that the general revenues have been in deficit for 40 years so that the wealthy could avoid paying their fair share.  All the time I was growing up and paying in they called social security the third rail of politics, touch it and you are dead.  They did touch it, to raise retirement ages, and there was little outcry since those affected were still young and in their prime unable to envision what it is like to get older.  And anyway life spans, healthy longevity has increased so it was not such a big deal to raise the age to 67.5 years, seemed reasonable.  But the idea that they will simply default on those that paid 16% of their income into the fund all their lives is one that politicians will not get away with and they know it. 

And I have seen nothing in all these reasonable arguments that even references the impact of ss benefits on the overall economy, to my mind almost all social spending is actually mostly neutral.  I do not consider SS to be an entitlement, but that is just a label anyway, except payments to the wealthy every single dime paid out to the public is spent back into the economy by the public.  Let us end all "entitlements" today and see how quick our economy dries up, pukes a huge horking fiscal furball into the treasury, and dies.  Then whatever private property the wealthy have enjoyed in their sybaritic pursuit of money at the expense of labor will be burned to the ground by the mobs that will justifiably go after them. 

I have to admit a tiny vanishing bit of respect for the upper classes and their bootlicking servants, you are a tenacious bunch.  But look around you, the big fine house in a clean safe neighborhood, the sparkling clean tap water in your baths, the polished fenders of your Mercs and BMW's, the security you so take for granted, you have bought into a Madison Avenue dreamscape of your entitlement to those things and fool yourselves into thinking you got there on your own, you didn't.  You got it by exploiting the labor of others.  Sure, some of you might be smarter and better looking, but you are not excused from a duty to those that put you where you are.  If you insist upon being bitches about it then please do not cry to me when you find out the hard way how tough and insecure and dirty life can be,I wash my hands of you.

Leraconteur's picture

 but you are not excused from a duty to those that put you where you are.

Total Marxist bullshit without any intellectual merit.

Those who earn more money than you owe you nothing.

SS will have to be adjusted, not because you think it won't, or others tell Congress 'Can't Touch This', but because the mathematics will demand it.

From this day forward SS and Medicare/Medicaid will be a drag on the budget. This will cause the deficit to spiral ever further out of control unless taxes are raised +67% or spending/benefits are cut -43%, or any sliding combination of the two.

The Rich only have $1,685 B in AGI. Taking all they earn won't fix this.

The Top 10% have $3,856 B in AGI. Taxing them an additional 50% will cause them to leave or stop working.

Gene Parmesan's picture


I did not say you were a total cretin, I just said your dogged refusal to argue in good faith was not worthy of ZH. 

I'm going to call you on this. Where did I doggedly refuse to argue anything in good faith? Your kneejerk reaction - name-calling, attacking those you perceive to be against your interests, etc. - is what's of questionable worth here on ZH.

To recap, you said "Your proto fascist drivel is unbecoming this board." I asked you to explain this. You failed to, and instead invented a history based on absolutely nothing, and with no roots in reality. So now in addition to explaining how my original comments were "proto fascist," I'm going to ask you to point to my "dogged refusal to argue in good faith."

Gene Parmesan's picture

That got a good laugh out of me. See you and that bike fixing guy at the constitutional convention.

Pure Evil's picture

You just fell into the pit where some momo's on ZH try to make a rep by crappin' on other peoples heads.

You seemed to climb out of the cesspool pretty well. It was pretty hilarious how he crawled back into his troll cave after you called him out on his cloddish behaviour.


boiltherich's picture

Just trying to show that you do not have to be a wingnut to refuse to argue with those you have grown tired of, and I do not dislike Gene, or those like him and Bruce that think they can use numbers to prove the impossibility of the situation, so let's all just give up and flip the baby boom the long middle finger.  Yes there are 70+ million boomers over the next 20 years retiring, and yes the outflow of funds is going to be huge by any standards, but remember it was also that 70+ million that have paid in since the 1960's and 70's.  Most of the 4.6 trillion in intergovernmental holdings are the trust fund assets.  It will be enough to cover the shortfall, or nearly, in part because the boom was 18 years long, most of those collecting now will be dead by the time my little sister is old enough to collect.  In that sense it is the boomers themselves paying for a large chunk of the original members of the generation. 

More important, just because ZH is predominantly a financial and economics comment forum does not mean that pure numbers will dictate how life out there in the real world operates.  Some issues transcend the economic or even political, and this is one of them.  I started working in 1973 and many of my generation started in the 60's, with every pay stub there was withholding, and in that withholding was an explicit promise, not implied, but in law, as well as in the moral integrity of America herself, that when 40 plus or 50 years of work was done and we went to collect our social security we would be paid.  Now some are suggesting that since the math does not seem to add up we must just say fuck the old people, and just for good measure blame the victims of the plundered funds. 

The funds were not plundered, they were wisely invested in the safest AAA rated bonds in the world, they are still there, and they will be enough to cover the shortfall between payroll revenues coming in and benefits going out.  At least for retirements, Medicare parts XYZ... a whole other issue.  What you who argue against the solvency of the fund are really saying is that you do not think you and America should have to honor the promises made, that the AAA rating was never deserved because the country always knew it was going to default on my generation.  That you have spotted an opportunity to default on trillions in debt because you think you can get away with screwing the elderly boomers, but if you think 70+ million of us are enough to break the bank then I am saying we are also enough to break a system that does not honor it's highest priority debts. 

The very concept of your defeatist game of "Oh well, it is a hard problem so fuck em, let them eat shit with the chickens" is immoral.  It might come down to the USA having to institute savage austerity on the rest of the budget in order to act in good faith on the boomers "investment," it might be that the country has to tax itself harder to pay up, never an easy thing, but it can and will be done. 

This is one of my favorite topics to discuss with republicans by the way, especially retired GOP.  I have seen them twist themselves into the most profound logical knots trying to rationalize their utter hatred for any form of taxes while at the same time trying to justify their SS benefits.  Get the popcorn and watch the wingers heads explode.

Gene Parmesan's picture

Lovely, but completely tangential with respect to my point that the younger generations aren't going to have much of an appetite for keeping the broken game going for the benefit of those who stuck them with this whole mess to begin with. Right or wrong.

I personally don't have much of an appetite for pushing the elderly out onto the street with a can of cat of food and a warm blanket to fend for themselves, I'm just observing that the "system" (SS, pensions, entitlements, etc) doesn't seem to be on a path that has any of this lasting for very long as presently constituted.

boiltherich's picture

Just sit back and watch Gene, real tangible wealth will be paid in order to satisfy the promises made, I assure you of that.  They can pay up or go to prison for evasion.  Tres simple oui?  Or, I will just take what is promised, with only appropriate force of course.

Gene Parmesan's picture

One way or the other, the matter will undoubtedly be resolved. All we can hope for is an equitable result.

boiltherich's picture

Dear Gene, please volunteer to be the first to pay and pay and pay over 16% of your income into a fund you can't control or withdraw from and never collect a cent.  You are so full of shit, it was your so called greatest generation that fucked the baby boom into existence so the "blame" for this mess is theirs, or more appropriately their politicians who refused to lift the caps on income that was taxed to fund their mess, you boob.  Your proto fascist drivel is unbecoming this board. 

Gene Parmesan's picture

Wow - brilliant response. Do you know what the term fascist actually means? Could you explain what part of my post makes me a proto fascist, socialist?

So the mere act of copulation makes the "greatest generation" (not my view of them, just an easy, commonly accepted reference to that generation) responsible for the reckless acts of the boomers? That has to sound stupid to even you.


rsnoble's picture

End Operation Global Gobble, take care of our own country.  That's what we want you morons.  Oh yes..........lets just drop the crippled and grandma off in the countryside to die.  That will be your future guess 90% of the people will never have any retirement based on making min wage or even much more.  Want to retire? Get two jobs and move to tent city.  That's your option.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

"Operation Global Gobble"

You're on fire.

MarketTruth's picture

Social Security = PONZI SCHEME ALERT!

4shzl's picture

Hard core reality deniers trashing this post need to wise up: numbers don't care what you like or want -- they are what they are.

Keep up the good work, Bruce -- your efforts on the subject of entitlements are especially valuable and much appreciated.


mikmid's picture

Great thinkiing Bruce, enjoy your thoughts on all the fiancial "stuff".