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Social Security Privatization and Market Risk

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  • Christian E. Weller

Abstract

Under Social Security privatization, workers would be allowed to divert some of the money that currently goes to Social Security into private accounts. This would expose them to market risk, that is, the risk of a substantial drop in equity prices or of a prolonged bear market. This could result in generations of workers with less money than they thought they would have for retirement. Depending on a worker's birth date, if the privatization approach proposed by President Bush's Commission to Strengthen Social Security had been enacted at the start of the Social Security program, the retirement benefits generated from putting 10% of earnings in a private account for 35 years would have ranged from 100% to less than 20% relative to pre-retirement earnings. The extraordinarily high retirement income generated from the booming 1990s stock market was the equivalent of winning the generational lottery-unlikely to be repeated regularly. Even under these beneficial circumstances, a privatized system could have cost the government more than $1 trillion in today's dollars over the past 3 decades if the government decided to help out those who accumulated too little for retirement. The primary alternative to a government bailout of the Social Security system, older workers working longer, would likely not generate the desired results. Workers wanting to work longer would create labor market pressures typically at times when unemployment is already high. Copyright 2006 by The Policy Studies Organization.

Suggested Citation

  • Christian E. Weller, 2006. "Social Security Privatization and Market Risk," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 23(2), pages 531-548, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:revpol:v:23:y:2006:i:2:p:531-548
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