A good story in the AARP Bulletin told of two people in their early sixties forced to take Social Security benefits before full benefits kicked in because they had lost their jobs and needed the money. A sixty-three-year-old woman named Jan Gissel said she was certain she couldn’t get another job so “I’m taking my Social Security, but I need more money than that to make it.” Sixty-one-year-old Steve Stanislowsky, whose retirement plans crumbled when he lost his job, will do the same. “I’m very worried about running out of money,” he said.
There has been little exploration of the secrecy that surrounds some of the deficit commission’s work. When Hillary Clinton held similarly secret meetings to craft her health care proposals in 1993-94, the press cried foul, and continued to do so when Clinton ran for president two years ago. The secrecy surrounding her work often passed for context in campaign stories. Even Alan Simpson’s derogatory comments about the “lesser people” didn’t make prime time, and vanished after a few days.
Instead of exploring these kinds of stories, or giving helpful primers on how Social Security really relates to the deficit and how different reform options will affect different people, the MSM have repeated the mantra of a broken system and simply passed along the notion that the system is bankrupt and broken, as the Tribune-Review did when it reported Boehner’s comments, or “projected to run out of money” as an otherwise reasonably good AP story did.
Another AP story, a business analysis, offered this dire prediction in the first two graphs: While may people don’t want to pay higher taxes or see benefit cuts, “the results of inaction on the steadily growing debt threat are even more costly: fundamental damage to the U.S. economy and a lower standard of living for future generations.” There was no mention how real people would fare under different options for making the minor fixes most experts will agree will keep the system in good shape well into the future, or of the real consequences that entitlement reform likely holds in store for them.
In January, CNN abandoned any semblance of balance by airing a live event special centering around what CNN called the “critically acclaimed documentary I.O.U.S.A.,” a movie that was sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. A panel of experts, including Peterson and David Walker, who heads his foundation, gave additional commentary.
In June, Marketplace captured the current tone of Social Security reportage with a sophomoric and misleading segment that even some of viewers objected to. The show’s host, Tess Vigeland, opined that “Social Security is in such a sorry state.” Money expert Kathy Kristof, from CBS Market Watch, reinforced that notion when she said the program was “in bad shape,” adding that it is still paying payments to people and can pay into the future, an acknowledgment that the system has a $2.5 trillion surplus. Social Security actuaries and CBO number crunchers say that’s enough to pay full benefits until 2037 or 2039, depending on who’s doing the crunching.
When Vigeland said she was in her forties and didn’t expect Social Security to be there for her, Kristof pretty much told her not to worry about it because the program will increasingly go to a means test. Kristof predicted: “They will raise the retirement age and they should,” explaining that the average person used to die at sixty-five; now people live another twenty years, and paying for them during that time is too much for our children to shoulder. But as Campaign Desk has noted, longevity gains are not equally distributed throughout the population. Marketplace made it sound oh so simple—and silly. Its listeners deserved better.