How did Time magazine get this essential fact about Social Security so fundamentally wrong?
Time magazine has just published online the latest in the media’s unceasing stream of alarmed reports on Social Security, declaring that the next president will have to face up to “one of the largest financial issues facing the country: shoring up Social Security.”
Unfortunately, Time’s analysis is undermined by a glaring misstatement about the program’s fiscal condition. “Since 2010,” reports the author, Penelope Wang, an editor at large at Money magazine, the program has been “running at a deficit, with tax revenues falling short of the benefits being paid out.”
This is fundamentally incorrect. Social Security is not running at a deficit. It’s recording a surplus and has done so every year since well before 2010. As is shown by the chart below (from the 2016 report of the Social Security trustees), from 2011 through 2015 the surplus came to $351.1 billion for the retirement component of the program. Last year alone, its surplus was $51 billion. When the cost of disability benefits is factored in, the surplus is smaller but still came to $23 billion last year.