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Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans

In: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13

Author

Listed:
  • Steven Caldwell
  • Melissa Favreault
  • Alla Gantman
  • Jagadeesh Gokhale
  • Thomas Johnson
  • Laurence J. Kotlikoff

Abstract

Social Security faces a major long-term funding crisis. A 38 or greater percentage increase in the systems' tax rate is needed to meet current benefit payments on an ongoing basis. Tax increases of this magnitude or comparable benefit cuts would significantly worsen what is already a very bad deal for postwar Americans. This paper uses CORSIM -- a dynamic micro simulation model -- and SOCSIM -- a detailed Social Security benefit calculator -- to study this deal. The study finds that baby boomers will, under current law, lose roughly 5 cents of every dollar they earn to the OASI program in taxes net of benefits. For today's children the figure is 7 cents. Measured as a proportion of their lifetime labor incomes, the middle class are the biggest losers, but measured in absolute dollars, the rich lose the most. Out of every dollar that postwar Americans contribute to the OASI system, 74 cents represent a pure tax. The system treats women better than men, whites better than non-whites, and the college educated better than the non-college educated. While the system has been partially effective in pooling risk across households, it offers postwar cohorts internal rates of return on their contributions that are quite low. Those born right after World War II will earn, on average, a 2.4 percent real rate of return. Those born in the early 1970's will average about a 1 percent real rate of return, and those born at the end of this decade will average essentially a zero rate of return.
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Suggested Citation

  • Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 109-148 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10923
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    1. Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 109-148 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Olivia S. Mitchell, 1999. "New Evidence on the Money's Worth of Individual Annuities," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1299-1318, December.
    3. Anthony Pellechio & Gordon Goodfellow, 1983. "Individual Gains and Losses from Social Security before and after the 1983 Amendments," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 3(2), pages 417-442, Fall.
    4. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 1999. "Distributional Impacts of Proposed Changes to the Social Security System," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 149-186 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Michael D. Hurd & John B. Shoven, 1985. "The Distributional Impact of Social Security," NBER Chapters,in: Pensions, Labor, and Individual Choice, pages 193-222 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "Erratum to: A theory of technophysio, with come implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(2), pages 1-1, May.
    7. Peter Diamond & Jonathan Gruber, 1997. "Social Security and Retirement in the U.S," NBER Working Papers 6097, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Hayashi, Fumio & Altonji, Joseph & Kotlikoff, Laurence, 1996. "Risk-Sharing between and within Families," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 64(2), pages 261-294, March.
    9. Jagadeesh Gokhale, 1998. "Social Security's treatment of postwar generations," Economic Commentary, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, issue Nov.
    10. Panis, C.W.A. & Lillard, L.A., 1996. "Socioeconomic Differentials in the Returns to Social Security," Papers 96-05, RAND - Labor and Population Program.
    11. Ronald Lee & Shripad Tuljapurkar, 1997. "Death and Taxes: Longer life, consumption, and social security," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 67-81, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton, 2009. "Is Social Security Part of the Social Safety Net?," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 23, pages 37-72 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Jeffrey B. Liebman, 2002. "Redistribution in the Current U.S. Social Security System," NBER Chapters,in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 11-48 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2002. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans. How Bad Can It Get?," NBER Chapters,in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 207-262 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Gokhale, Jagadeesh & Kotlikoff, Laurence J. & Sefton, James & Weale, Martin, 2001. "Simulating the transmission of wealth inequality via bequests," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 93-128, January.
    5. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Alexi Sluchynsky, 2002. "Does It Pay to Work?," NBER Working Papers 9096, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. John Geanakoplos & Olivia S. Mitchell & Stephen P. Zeldes, "undated". "Social Security Money's Worth," Pension Research Council Working Papers 97-20, Wharton School Pension Research Council, University of Pennsylvania.
    7. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2002. "The Impact of Social Security and Other Factors on the Distribution of Wealth," NBER Chapters,in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 85-114 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 1999. "Distributional Impacts of Proposed Changes to the Social Security System," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 149-186 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Mehmet S Tosun, 2005. "Global Aging and Fiscal Policy with International Labor Mobility; A Political Economy Perspective," IMF Working Papers 05/140, International Monetary Fund.
    10. Julia Lynn Coronado & Don Fullerton & Thomas Glass, 2002. "Long-Run Effects of Social Security Reform Proposals on Lifetime Progressivity," NBER Chapters,in: The Distributional Aspects of Social Security and Social Security Reform, pages 149-206 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Coronado Julia Lynn & Fullerton Don & Glass Thomas, 2011. "The Progressivity of Social Security," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 11(1), pages 1-45, November.
    12. Alwyn Young, 2001. "Demographic Fluctuations, Generational Welfare and Intergenerational Transfers," NBER Working Papers 8530, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Wade D. Pfau, 2009. "How Representative are Representative Workers? An Assessment of the Hypothetical Workers Commonly Used in Social Security Studies," Journal of Income Distribution, Journal of Income Distribution, vol. 18(2), pages 92-117, June.
    14. Li Tan & Cory Koedel, 2017. "The Effects of Differential Income Replacement and Mortality on U.S. Social Security Redistributions," Working Papers 2017-01, Department of Economics, University of Missouri, revised Feb 2018.
    15. Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2002. "Simulating the Transmission of Wealth Inequality," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 265-269, May.
    16. Josh O’Harra & John Sabelhaus, 2002. "Projecting Longitudinal Marriage Patterns for Long-Run Policy Analysis: Technical Paper 2002-2," Working Papers 14080, Congressional Budget Office.
    17. Steven Caldwell & Melissa Favreault & Alla Gantman & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Thomas Johnson & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "Social Security's Treatment of Postwar Americans," NBER Chapters,in: Tax Policy and the Economy, Volume 13, pages 109-148 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Wade D. Pfau, 2008. "Assessing the Applicability of Hypothetical Workers for Defined-Contribution Pensions," GRIPS Discussion Papers 07-11, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
    19. Martin Feldstein & Elena Ranguelova, 1998. "Individual Risk and Intergenerational Risk Sharing in an Investment-Based Social Security Program," NBER Working Papers 6839, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    20. Johnson, Richard W., 1999. "Distributional Implications of Social Security Reform for the Elderly: The Impact of Revising COLAs, the Normal Retirement Age, and the Taxation of Benefits," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 52(n. 3), pages 505-30, September.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions

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