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An Advisory on Social Security Due

May 01, 2003|Aparna Kumar | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Your next annual statement from the government estimating your Social Security retirement benefits will state in blunt language that those funds are in jeopardy.

As if today's workers weren't already worried enough that Social Security will not be there when they need it, the Social Security Administration will tell them: "Action is needed soon to make sure that the system is sound when today's younger workers are ready for retirement."

The warning, which the government plans to unveil today, will be included in the annual letter from Social Security to 138 million workers over the age of 25, estimating their benefits under various retirement strategies.

The nation's elderly are its fastest-growing population group. The Social Security letter estimates that the number of people over 65 will double within 40 years. Thus the number of Social Security beneficiaries will grow much faster than the number of workers who are paying the payroll tax.

Tax revenue now far exceeds benefit payments, but, the letter estimates, that will last only 14 more years under current law. "By 2042," it warns, "the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."

Carolyn Cheezum, a Social Security spokeswoman, said the beefed-up language was designed solely to "educate the public.... The point is to make the information in the statement more clear and easy to understand so that the public can take part in the discussion about its future."

She said the purpose was not to plug the Bush administration's proposal to let workers invest some of their own payroll taxes in stocks and bonds

David Certner, director of federal affairs for AARP, a seniors' lobby, said the new letter gave fresh emphasis to the retirement system's solvency. Without naming names, he said:

"Some who are interested in more radical reforms have tried to create a crisis atmosphere about Social Security's financial condition. We believe Social Security is not in a crisis."

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