Wender is also off the mark in her examination of Social Security’s shortfall. She reports correctly that Social Security payouts exceeded non-interest income in 2010 and 2011. But why gloss over the role of interest? In 2011, for example, the system had a $69 billion surplus when all of Social Security’s income, including interest on its reserves, is counted. To ignore interest earnings is like saying Warren Buffet shouldn’t count interest and dividends in calculating his income. Wender concedes there is “extra” money in the Social Security “bank account,” but says “the number of beneficiaries will continue to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers.” Apparently to prove her point, she writes:

The Board of Trustees estimate that in 2033 all the money in the Social Security “bank account” will be depleted. This means that workers in their forties fifties [sic] today may not have access to the Social Security benefits that they’ve paid into when they retire.

Aside from the mistake in logic—workers can’t pay into a benefit—Wender has contradicted her own description of the system’s pay-as-you-go feature. If workers are still paying into the system, which they will be, how can the system be depleted in 2033 in the manner she suggests? Indeed even in 2033—with no fixes at all from Cogress—the trustees say there will be sufficient funds to pay 75 percent of the benefits, and perhaps close to 80 percent, according to Congressional Budget Office projections. And as Baker points out, “because benefits are projected to rise through time, this would still be a larger benefit than most retirees receive today.”

Yahoo advises that its “Just Explain It” series decodes the jargon “so the stories you read become relevant and understandable and you can impress your friends at your next dinner party.” We suggest readers forget about this one and impress their friends with a good bottle of wine.

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How to measure the worth of Social Security

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.