Since its inception, millions of Americans have depended on social security benefits to see them through their retirement. Even for those who worked in fields that did not offer retirement matching and other benefits, SSI acted as a supplement regardless of social standing or socioeconomic status, so long as minimum contributions were made during their years in the labor force.
That concept is being threatened by shrinking wages, longer life expectancy, and a dwindling population. If there aren’t enough native born American citizens to care for our elderly, we will soon face a crisis that will leave vulnerable populations in great financial insecurity.
Immigration could be the key to solving the social security puzzle.
A Brief History of Social Security
In the aftermath of the 1929 Stock Market Crash and in the midst of the Great Depression, it became increasingly clear that America desperately needed a safety net for honest, hardworking people who fell on hard times. Men and women who had worked their whole lives were left penniless, homeless, and starving regardless of their previous occupations and socioeconomic status.
On August 14, 1935, Franklin D. Roosevelt put his seal of approval on the Social Security Act. Its purpose was to support the unemployed, disabled, and elderly Americans who would not survive without this social safety net. Through required lifetime payroll taxes, workers across the United States could rest assured that their social security benefits would be there to help support them after they retired.
Social Security benefits have been a post-retirement lifeline for millions of Americans, as well as a much needed respite from the financial burden of losing a spouse or parent. In uncertain financial times, this social security net has kept people on their feet and away from the threat of poverty.
A Troubling Trend: Social Security By the Numbers
It’s clear that the importance of social security cannot be downplayed or ignored. Yet, we are facing a dire situation in the near future.
Let’s take a look at what the trends tell us regarding the future of social security:
Average Life Expectancy
When the Social Security Act was first enacted, the majority of beneficiaries would not live long enough to claim their benefits. Now, due to the technology boom, major advances in medicine, and improvements in the standard of living, people are living longer than ever before.
In 1929, when social security benefits began, the average life expectancy was only 58.5 years. Today, it is up to 79.2 years. With the earliest claims being filed by those who are 62 years old, American workers are on the hook for covering, on average, 17.2 years worth of Supplemental Security Income for the aging workforce.
In 1930, there was an average of 2,618 births for every 1,000 women, creating a future workforce large enough to support the previous generation through retirement.
The current United States birth rate is at a 30-year low, sinking below the level necessary to replace the aging population. According to the CDC, the replacement rate is set at 2,100 births for every 1,000 women, but currently rests at 1,764.5 births for every 1,000 women.
Our future workforce is growing smaller and smaller. If current trends hold, there will soon be too few people to fund the upcoming generation’s retirement benefits.
Ratio of Covered Workers to Beneficiaries
When you combine an increasingly long post-retirement life expectancy and a decrease in the population, you come out with serious issues for our current social security system.
In 1940, 34.4 million workers supported 222,000 beneficiaries. That meant that these workers were splitting the cost of a single beneficiary with 158 other people. By 1945, that number dropped to 41.9 people sharing the cost. The number has become increasingly smaller throughout the years.
Between 1985 and 2008, the ratio stayed relatively stable, fluctuating between 3.2 and 3.3. By 2013, the last year for which this data is available, 2.8 people are paying the benefits for a single person.
All of that adds up to a 98% decrease in the number of workers responsible for paying into supporting a single person’s post-retirement benefits. That means more social security taxes for you, and more financial uncertainty for our aging population.
Is Immigration the Solution to the Social Security Crisis?
Compared to the 150 million Americans in the United States workforce, immigration does very little to affect the availability of jobs. In fact, there are a record 7.3 million job openings as of June 30, 2019. With 6.1 million people who are unemployed in the US, that leaves a whopping 1.2 million jobs that still need to be filled.
Mathematically, the United States could accept 14 times the amount of legal, visa-holding immigrants in order to fill all the available slots.
We need nurses (1.03 million), nursing aides (422K), IT specialists (235K), preschool teachers (178K). and HVAC specialists (136K).
We need elementary and middle school teachers (597K, 251K), accountants (498K), construction managers (138K), and market researchers (137K).
We need college professors (553K), doctors and surgeons (261K), lawyers (240K), pharmacists (106K), and social workers (61K).
All of these jobs are critical to America. So, where are we going to find people to fill them? With a falling population and with time running out on social security funding, the only answer is to look across our borders.