Malaise watch: Disabled Americans hit record high

CNS News brings us a look at the latest balance sheet from the Social Security Administration:

The Social Security program ran a $47.8 billion deficit in fiscal 2012 as the program brought in $725.429 billion in cash and paid $773.247 for benefits and overhead expenses, according to official data published by Social Security Administration.

The Social Security Administration also released new data revealing that the number of workers collecting disability benefits hit a record 8,827,795 in December–up from 8,805,353 in November.

Did you know the Social Security system was already $47 billion in debt, and climbing?  Is it time to jam our knuckles between our teeth and begin sobbing uncontrollably?

Nah, let’s do that next year.  For now, we can ponder the astonishing rise in “disabled” Americans, which does not come accompanied with any real surge in physical disabilities or career-ending workplace accidents.  It’s the American economic system that has become disabled.

But this is also a product of the Baby Boom demographic tsunami, which is blasting over the rocks of long-term disability en route to the rapidly eroding beaches of Social Security:

The overall number of Social Security program beneficiaries—including retired workers, dependent family members and survivors and disabled workers and their dependent family members—also hit a record in December, climbing from 56,658,978 in November to 56,758,185 in December.

In 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was an average of 112.556 million full-time workers in the United States, of whom 17.806 million worked full-time for local, state or federal government. That left an average of only 94.750 million full-time private sector workers in the country.

That means that for every 1.67 Americans who worked full-time in the private sector in 2011, there is now 1 person collecting benefits from the Social Security administration.

(Emphasis mine.)  The representation of Social Security as some sort of trust fund, owned by the workers who funded it, is one of the greatest swindles ever perpetrated on the American public.  If the program ever bore any resemblance to such a system, it has long since vanished.  It’s all about the ratio of taxpaying workers to current beneficiaries now, and 1.67-to-1  is not sustainable.

As the CNS report goes on to explain, the illusion of borderline solvency is bestowed upon the system through accounting tricks and paper-shuffling that obscures the “net cash flow” – in other words, income minus expenses, the way every other financial enterprise is judged.  The net cash flow hasn’t been written in black ink since 2009.

The whole government is like that, except it’s been bleeding money since long before 2009.  Its finances could not survive the most cursory business audit; if it weren’t for Uncle Sam’s signature on the application, it would never qualify for a loan from any sane financial institution.  It won’t take much more stress to blow a hole in the system that cannot be papered over.  Make the workforce a bit smaller, throw a few more Boomer retirees into the mix, raise the cost of debt financing enough to consume the entire “discretionary” federal budget… we’re almost there, and no level of taxation on “millionaires” can stop it.

Making Social Security an increasingly bad deal for new retirees – by raising the age of eligibility, and reducing benefits – might keep it running for a while longer.  But is that something we’re supposed to celebrate?