This 1968 poster reminds older Americans to sign up for Medicare, which was enacted three years before. A complete gallery of photos and posters is coming soon.


Misleading language and myths have littered the debate over Social Security. Here are a few:
Myth: Social Security is a victim of the aging baby boom, reflected in the ratio of workers to retirees, which used to be 16 to 1, is now 3 to 1, and in 2030, will be 2 to 1.

Reality: Today's projected deficit has nothing to do with the size of the baby boom or worker to retiree ratios. The 16 to 1 ratio is a meaningless factoid, plucked from 1950, a year when Social Security was expanded to cover millions of new workers. The ratio never influenced policy in the slightest. It is the kind of ratio experienced by all pension plans, public and private at the start when few workers have yet qualified for benefits; the 2 to 1 ratio is meaningful and does translate into higher costs, but those costs were addressed decades ago. Congress has enacted ten significant Social Security bills since 1950. Every enactment has taken into account the baby boom, and each has left the program in long-run actuarial balance. The most recent enactment was in 1983, when the program was in balance through 2057 - the year the youngest boomers, those born in 1964, will turn 93. How social security went from a projected surplus through 2057, when most of the baby boom will be dead, to today's projected deficit involves a number of factors, mainly related to changes in assumptions about wage growth, productivity and disability rates. The change from surplus to deficit is totally unrelated to the number of baby boomers, as one would surmise. After all, no new baby boomers have been born since 1983.
Myth: Social Security is going bankrupt.

Reality: From all federal programs, Social Security has been singled out for alarmist claims about bankruptcy because it operates under the conservative principles of a balanced budget and long-range projections. Bankruptcy is a meaningless concept when applied to the federal government or any of its programs. It is instructive to note that the bankruptcy language would disappear instantly if Congress simply reinstated the authorization, present in the law from 1943 to 1950, to pay any shortfall in Social Security out of general revenue. For more info, click here.
Myth: Social Security is unworkable in the face of an aging population

Reality: Eliminating Social Security's projected deficit many decades away, is one of the easiest problems facing the nation. I propose a plan, which solves the deficit without benefit cuts, while raising extremely moderate taxes on just six percent of the workforce. Click here for more details. More fundamentally, our economy can support our elderly, the widespread demographic anxiety notwithstanding. One measure of the ability of a population to support its nonworkers is the total dependency ratio, which is simply the sum of those under age 20 plus those age 65 and over divided by those ages 20 to 64. The lower the ratio, the lighter the burden. The total dependency ratio in the United States was highest in 1965. It has declined substantially since then and is not projected to reach that level again until around 2078. Moreover, the composition of the dependency ratio has changed. There are now more elderly and fewer children in the mix. This is a positive development from the perspective of income support. Very few five year olds can support themselves; many 70 year olds can and do.
Myth: Social Security won't be around when younger workers retire.

Reality: All the hype about bankruptcy has caused many to believe they are likely to receive no benefits from Social Security. Even if no change in Social Security is enacted for the next 75 years, future retirees will still receive higher benefits, in real dollar terms, than their parents who retire today. After all, for the next 75 years and beyond, Social Security will continue to collect billions of dollars in income week in and week out.
Myth: Social Security is a bad deal for younger workers. They would do better with private accounts.

Reality: Social Security provides more benefits than private accounts would. In addition to retirement benefits, young workers and their families have valuable life and disability insurance right now. Social Security includes features, such as complete protection against inflation, not offered in the private market. Further, Social Security has substantially lower administrative costs -- returning more than 99 cents of every dollar collected -- than private accounts are projected to have. Moreover, Social Security permits parents of young workers to live independently from their adult children and frees those children to focus their assets and attention on their own children. For additional information, click here.
Myth: Social Security is unfair to African Americans.

Reality: Social Security is vitally important to African-Americans. Social Security is the only source of retirement income for four out of 10 African-Americans, aged 65 and over. Without Social Security, the poverty rate among African-American seniors would triple, from 21 to 60 percent.

It is true that because of their shorter life expectancies, African Americans collect Social Security's retirement benefits, on average, for a shorter period of time than their European-American counterparts. But Social Security also provides benefits in the event of disability or death. Because of their poorer health status, blacks are more likely to become disabled or die prematurely than their white counterparts.

While approximately 13 percent of the population is black, black children constitute 23 percent of the children receiving Social Security survivor benefits, and African Americans represent 17 percent of those receiving disability insurance. Moreover, Social Security's benefits are progressively structured. Because African Americans have lower median earnings than the population as a whole and have higher rates of unemployment, they receive disproportionately higher benefits from Social Security. Click here for more details.
Myth: Social Security is out-of-date, made for the Depression, and in need of modernization.

Reality: Social Security was enacted during the Depression, but it was not made for the Depression. The 1935 legislation provided that withholding from pay for Social Security would become effective on January 1, 1937. In order to give workers time to become insured, the 1935 enactment provided that monthly benefits were delayed, not due to begin for seven years after the 1935 enactment - until January 1, 1942, a date more than twelve years after the stock market crash of 1929. President Roosevelt recognized that to get immediate assistance to people in need to alleviate the immediate suffering caused by the Depression - there was no alternative to mean tested welfare. But for the long term once the Depression was history and the economic health of the country was restored the President wanted a system of insurance in place to guarantee for posterity that every American would have a reliable, stable source of income from which they could draw in old age (Chapter 4 of The Battle for Social Security includes a lengthy discussion explaining the difference between welfare and social insurance). President Roosevelt's vision is as relevant and important today as it was then: As long as people are dependent on wages, Social Security is necessary. In a world where the private pension system is in trouble, and where savings are at their lowest rate since the 1930s, Social Security's rock solid guarantee of a floor of protection in retirement is more necessary than ever.
Myth: The President's private account proposal, allowing stock market returns, is designed to save Social Security.

Reality: If the issue were simply one of stock market returns, Social Security could be permitted to invest its reserves in the stock market. The issue is one of ideology, not investment strategy. Social Security is a wage-replacement program based on the insurance principle of pooled risk. Private accounts are private savings. Both can provide income in old age, but private accounts concentrate the risk while Social Security spreads it. The President's grandfather, Prescott Bush, who once remarked, "The only man I truly hated lies buried in Hyde Park," considered Franklin Roosevelt a traitor to his class. Roosevelt prevented his wealthy counterparts from saving for retirement solely on their own and instead forced them to pool a portion of their incomes with the rest of the population. The President appears determined to undo the work of his grandfather's nemesis. We should not allow him to use scare tactics and glib myths to undermine what remains the most successful domestic program in history.