American Academy of Actuaries
- An online tool from the American Academy of Actuaries lets users simulate various Social Security proposals.
- Social Security faces insolvency sometime in the next decade.
- For instance, the game shows users how much raising the retirement age would impact funding.
If you’ve ever seen Congress deliberate over a budget and thought you could do a better job, now’s your chance.
A new game created by the American Academy of Actuaries, a professional association that advises public policymakers, helps users learn about the mechanics of Social Security, which is rapidly approaching insolvency.
The website gives users a taste of the kind of compromises many lawmakers are deliberating such as raising the retirement age and reducing benefits. Users can make decisions about what Social Security measures get funded, how, and when, and then see the results.
“There are ways to address the Social Security challenge,” the site tells visitors upon entering. “Congress might decide to either: a) increase taxes b) reduce benefits. Or a solution might be found in some combination of both.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fund will become unable to make all of its payments starting in 2033. Social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security have been a partisan battleground for Democrats and Republicans for decades now, with Republicans eyeing big cuts for both programs. The issue has taken on new urgency in recent months, with a far-right contingent from the House of Representatives pushing for cuts as Democrats and President Biden remain staunchly opposed.
It’s caused rifts among Republicans themselves, with many publicly saying they want to protect the programs, which the White House has called “head fakes.” For his part, Biden has remained firm against any cuts, and has even entertained more progressive proposals to fund Social Security, such as increasing payroll taxes for high-earning Americans.
Deciding the future of Social Security
The tool resembles games like Animal Crossing in that you can speak to residents of a fictional community, in this case, the town of Townsville.
“When my dear Phyllis was still alive, we were both receiving about the same Social Security benefit every month,” Vince, the owner of Mom and Pop’s grocery store, tells visitors. “But since she died, I only get my checks, meaning I have to get by on half the income every month — but it’s not as though my bills have been cut in half!”
And the game walks you through the different types of problems that people depending on Social Security payments encounter.
“I’ve also seen that the way the COLA gets determined might be changed,” one store patron said of annual cost of living adjustments, which are determined by inflation. “It might be adjusted to reflect how folks change their shopping habits when, say, some groceries go up in price. Makes sense to me, since I buy (or don’t buy) different things depending on their cost. But this would mean the amount of COLA would likely be lower. And how about people with low incomes who can’t change what they buy?”
At the town hall, visitors can listen to politicians’ views on how to keep Social Security solvent, which resemble current discourse — one councilperson recommends raising the normal retirement age since people are living longer than they used to, which is an increasingly popular talking point among Republicans.
The challenge itself shows what percentage of a shortfall is eliminated based on what budgeting decisions you make.
For example, one metric lets you decide what should be done about workers’ payroll tax rate, which is currently at 12.4% and split evenly between an employer and employee. If you raise it 0.1% a year starting until 2028 until it hits 14.4%, you’ve eliminated 44% of the shortfall, for instance. And then if you increase the minimum benefit to 125% of the poverty level for those with 30 years of coverage, it lowers the eliminated shortfall rate to 39%.
Doing something like raising the workers’ payroll tax rate to 16% immediately, however, eliminates all of the shortfall.
“It’s important to keep Social Security strong,” the website tells visitors. “It’s been a lifeline for millions of Americans. Lower-income workers often rely completely on Social Security to support themselves in retirement.”