Please explain what the social security surplus is and why it is
Social Security's Trillion Dollar Surplus
An annual "Social Security budget surplus" is created when
Social Security receipts exceed the combined cost of providing benefits
and administering the system. The yearly increase in 2000 for the Social
Security Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust Funds (OASDI),
which accounts for the bulk of the system's earnings and expenditures,
was $153.3 billion (see Table, below). Each year the annual surplus (deficit)
is added (subtracted) to the cumulative outstanding fund balance from
the prior year. As the Table shows, the cumulative fund balance at the
end of 2000 reached over $1 trillion.
Fiscal year 2000 Budget Summary for the
Social Security Administration's OASDI Trust Fund
|Total 2000 Receipts (taxes and interest)
Less: Total 2000 Expenditures
|Equals: Net Increase in Fund for 2000
Add: Net Increase for 2000 to 1999 Fund Assets
|Equals: 2000 Fund Assets
What Does Social Security Do with the Surplus?
The cumulative "surplus" funds are "primarily invested
in interest-bearing obligations of the U.S. Government."
Most of the assets held by the Social Security trust fund are "special
public-debt obligations for purchase exclusively by the trust funds."
The special Treasury issues are "redeemable at all times at par value,"
and they "pay an average market yield."
Essentially, the Social Security surplus has been lent to the Treasury
to fund other government expenditures.
The Trust Funds Are Growing!
Since 1982, the OASDI programs have generated an annual surplus. As Chart
1 shows, annual receipts (Social Security taxes plus interest earned)
have exceeded annual expenditures, resulting in a net increase (annual
surplus) that is added to the outstanding balance of trust fund assets.
The sizeable annual increases in recent years have resulted in a sharp
increase in the size of the OASDI Trust Fund, shown in Chart 2. As a result
of the rapid growth of the fund, the cumulative surplus of the OASDI fund
climbed to more $1 trillion in 2000.
Why Is the Trust Fund Important?
The size of the trust fund is important because, in the decades ahead,
demographic changes likely will cause the system to experience annual
deficits. Thus, the $1 trillion-plus trust fund balance at yearend 2000
provides a cushion during periods when the trust fund might run annual
Changing demographic trends, like the planned retirement of the large
baby boom generation, are expected to create a sharp increase in system
expenditures in the decades ahead, while receipts languish as the number
of workers falls relative to the number of retirees. Once expenditures
exceed receipts (including interest), the trust funds must begin selling
their U.S. Treasury bonds to offset the deficits. If those deficits continue,
the annual deficits would eventually deplete the existing trust funds.
Ultimately, without changes to the existing tax and benefit structure,
most projections indicate that the annual deficits would eventually deplete
the existing trust fund assets, and Social Security would be forced to
begin borrowing to meet future obligations.
Let me suggest some additional reading materials that delve into the
details of Social Security financing and reform, and a related issue of
projecting budget surpluses:
Daly, Mary C. 1999. "Understanding the Social Security Debate."
FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco,
99-20; June 25.
Greenspan, Alan. 1999. "Statement to Congress, January 28, 1999
(Social Security)" Federal Reserve Bulletin. Board of Governors
of the Federal Reserve System, March 1999, p. 190-192, or http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/testimony/current/19990128.htm
Lansing, Kevin J. 2001. "Uncertainties in Projecting Federal Budget
Surpluses." FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve
Bank of San Francisco, 2001-10; April 13. http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/letter/2001/el2001-10.html
The 2001 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age
and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance Trust Funds. 2001.
Social Security Administration, March 19, 2001. http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/TR01/index.html
Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust Funds, 1957-2000.
Calendar year operations, statistical tables. Social Security Administration
website (April 24, 2001): http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/STATS/table4a3.html