Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Ugly Truth About US Debt

Only your closest friends will stop you before you leave the house in an unflattering outfit.  Maybe it takes a grown woman without an agenda to tell you to truth about US debt.
Here's an unbiased look.  Please refrain from the temptation to shoot the messenger.
All links are to most current US government promulgated reports.
The Budget
We're spending $3.5 trillion dollars, and taking in $2.1 trillion in revenue.  The $1.4 trillion we're spending beyond our means is our annual deficit, and is added to all prior year deficits.  The total of all deficits as of last September 30 is $11.9 trillion.  That amount, now just over $13 trillion, is our national debt.
Almost 40% ($1.35 trillion of our $3.5 trillion total annual expense) is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
All the money we spend on national defense is is just over 15.5%, and rises to 22%, when including all other security programs.  Those two items are nearly 2/3 of what we spend.
The other third is non-security and other mandatory programs, like education, justice, commerce, state department and the like.
Individual income taxes are just over 40% of all taxes.  Corporate taxes are almost 7%.
Social security, medicare and unemployment taxes are the biggest chunk - just over 42%.  By the way, if you think your social security taxes are put into the so-called "Social Security Trust Fund," think again.  There is no trust fund.  We spend that money.  But we promise to pay you back.  That promise is almost 40% of our annual expense.
Personalizing the Budget
I can see your eyes rolling back in your head.  No one can think in trillions.  So, let's put this budget in terms of your community.  To keep the numbers easy, we'll say that your community spends $100,000 per year, and expenses are split up just like our Federal budget.
$38,500 is put aside for old age benefits.  About 13% of your population is 65 and older.
$29,700 goes to education, agriculture, commerce, energy, justice, labor and the like..
$22,000 is for security.  You live in a dangerous area, and you've been attacked within the last decade.
$5,300 is interest on loans you've taken out to finance the amount you've spent above your revenues in the past.
$4,300 was invested in your local banks, which nearly stopped making loans due to their bad condition last year.  You've been repaid about half the amount you lent them so far.
Reviewing the Budget
Right off the bat, almost 40% of your budget is spent for old age benefits for 13% of your population. .
You may be able to cut a little here and there, but nothing is as anywhere near as significant as that expense.  Even if you cut your security budget in half, it wouldn't be as much of a benefit as cutting the old age benefit by just one-third.
But you know that this is a "sacred cow."  Just look at the civil unrest in Greece and Spain for an idea of what you can expect when you cut benefits that you've promised - even if you can't afford them.
The fact is, though, you can't continue to promise 40% of the budget to 13% of the population.  Someone, at some point, is going to have to tell your community the truth.
The Truth
Old age benefits began during the Great Depression.  At that time, US life expectancies were 60 years of age, and benefits were available at age 65.  Now, US life expectancies are 77.2, and benefits are still payable at age 65.  The age at which benefits are available has not moved, despite the increase in life expectancy of 27.2 years.
When old age benefits began, there were 42 workers per retiree.  In 1950, there were 16.  Now there are 3.3 workers per retiree.
Some Possible Solutions
1.  Age at which benefits are available must be increased in relation to the increase in our life expectancy.
2.  Those of us who have provided comfortably for our retirements must consider reduction, or even elimination of our benefits for the viability of the program.
3.  The option for a portion of benefits to be available for young workers to invest in capital markets.
4.  You decide.  Those of us who are parents and grandparents have the responsibility to make tough decisions in order to keep this program viable for the next generations.  Yes, we paid into the system.  Yes, a promise was made.  But we're paying out much more than we're taking in, and no expense is anywhere near that of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  It's our responsibility.
We need to acknowledge the problem and fix it.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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