Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Social Security Checkup: Monthly Trust Fund Reports

Near the end of each month the Treasury Dept releases Trust Fund Reports giving balances to the penny for the previous month. By comparing these balances to the projection in the Annual Reports we can get a rough idea of how Social Security is doing year to date. This year's Report was released on October 2. Two caveats:
One, these numbers are not seasonally adjusted and I couldn't tell you the relative impact on total wages of summer employment vs harvest vs holiday. Each are marked by the entry of temporary workers into the system.
Two, Social Security collects FICA on your total check right up to the point you hit the annual cap at which point they stop collecting at all. For example if you have a salary of $200,000 per year you would see full deductions for Jan to Jun, a small deduction for July and nothing thereafter. This should make for the earlier parts of the year seeing relatively higher collections than the latter. But once again I can't quantify the effect.

So this is an imperfect tool. But it is what we have. So lets have some numbers.
The web page for all the Trust Fund Reports (including Medicare HI, Highways etc) is Trust Fund Monthly Reports While generally Social Security is reported for convenience as having a single Trust Fund which will go to depletion (or not) in some future year (currently 2041), in reality there are two Trust Funds which are legally distinct and can have different levels of solvency and so different projected depletion dates. The larger by far (about 10 to 1) is the OAS (Old Age Survivors) TF. Its report can be found at OAS Monthly TF Report. Its smaller companion the DI (Disability Insurance) TF can be found at DI Monthly TF Report These can then be cross checked against the relevant tables in the 2008 Report:
Table IV.A1.—Operations of the OASI Trust Fund, Calendar Years 2003-171 [Amounts in billions] and Table IV.A2.—Operations of the DI Trust Fund, Calendar Years 2003-171 [Amounts in billions]
OAS::Opening balance//Projected year end balance-Intermediate Cost//Y-O-Y Increase//Year end balance-Low Cost//Y-O-Y increase-Low Cost
$2.023 trillion // $2.216 trillion //$193 billion// $2.221 trillion// $198 billion

DI::Opening balance//Projected year end balance-Intermediate Cost//Y-O-Y Increase//Year end balance-Low Cost//Y-O-Y increase-Low Cost
$214.9 billion//$218.7 billion//$3.8 billion//$221.3 billion// $6.4 billion.
Per IV.A2 the opening balance for DI was $214 billion, projected year end under IC $218.7 billion, under LC $221.3 billion

June 30th/Mid-year: OAS $2.140 trillion// DI $220 billion

Aug 31st/Two-thirds: OAS $2.164 trillion// DI $219 billion

I had some calculations up but they all got garbled in my head so I deleted them. Bottom line 2008 is shaping up to be a kind of sucky year for Social Security. What was a decent picture for OAS mid-year now is kind of dim, it is unlikely that we will even hit Intermediate Cost projections. What was a really bright picture for DI is now less shiny, from June to August the balance actually shrank, if that continues at the same rate it too will fail to hit IC projections.

Which just goes to show the ultimate truth about Social Security, it prospers in good times, it shares the pain in bad as receipts react to covered employment and real wages. (We have a parallel here with the late seventies, a reform was put in in I believe 1977, it didn't fare well when stagflation simultaneously choked off revenue while boosting cost. The result was a new crisis and a need for a bigger reform in 1983).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bruce

did you notice if the new numbers were the result of lower income from taxes, or higher benefits, or what?

Bruce Webb said...

The Treasury Reports are very bare bones numbers reporting, they measure dollars in and dollars out without doing any kind of commentary at all.

I suppose a really industrious researcher could data mine them and cross correlate them with other economic data and really generate some meaningful numbers. Me I am must taking one from column A (balance as of Aug 31st) and comparing it to column B (projected balances for year end from previous report) without even trying to do any seasonal weighting.

These numbers mean as much or as little as the effort one is willing to put into them. Me, I am fundamentally lazy.

retiredebtfree01 said...

Statutory provisions governing the Trust Fund require the actuary retained by the PEIA to provide
technical advice regarding the operation of the Trust Fund.

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