Social Security Reform: Evaluating Current Proposals

June 1999
EBRI Issue Brief #210
Paperback, 24 pp.
PDF, 105 kb
Employee Benefit Research Institute, 1999

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Executive Summary

  • The present Social Security program has been shown to be financially unsustainable in the future without modification to the current program. The purpose of this Issue Brief, EBRI's fourth in a series on Social Security reform, is threefold: to illustrate new features of SSASIM not available in earlier EBRI publications, to expand quantitative analysis to specific proposals, and to evaluate the uncertainty involved in proposals that rely on equity investment.
  • This analysis compares the Gregg/Breaux-Kolbe/Stenholm (GB-KS) and Moynihan/Kerrey proposals with three generic or “traditional” reforms: increasing taxes, reducing benefits, and/or increasing the retirement age. Both proposals would create individual accounts by “carving out” funds from current Social Security payroll taxes.
  • This analysis also examines other proposed changes that would “add on” to existing Social Security funds through the use of general revenue transfers and/or investment in the equities market. President Clinton has proposed a general revenue transfer and the collective investment of some of the OASDI trust fund assets in equities. Reps. Archer and Shaw have proposed a general revenue tax credit to establish individual accounts that would be invested partially in the equities markets.
  • When comparing Social Security reform proposals that would specifically alter benefit levels, the Moynihan/Kerrey bill compares quite favorably with the other proposals in both benefit levels and payback ratios, when individuals elect to use the individual account option. In contrast, the GB-KS bills do not compare quite as favorably for their benefit levels, but do compare favorably in terms of payback ratios.
  • An important comparison in these bills is the administrative costs of managing the individual accounts, since benefits can be lowered by up to 23 percent when going from the assumed low to high administrative costs. Moreover, allowing individuals to decide whether to save the 2 percent of their OASDI taxable income or to receive higher take-home pay, as would be allowed in Moynihan/Kerrey, could lead to substantial differences in ultimate retirement income.
  • Allowing for individual investment choices and using actual 401(k) participant allocation data, as opposed to an assumed average allocation for everyone, results in substantial differences in account balances. The Archer/Shaw approach mandates a 60 percent/40 percent equity/bond split specifically to avoid the variations in returns that arise from individual investment allocation decisions.
  • Although there are greater chances for higher returns for equity investment in the president's proposal, there are also greater chances for worse outcomes. This is also true for other reforms that would invest Social Security assets in equities.