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New retirees receiving less in Social Security than they paid in, marking historic shift

FILE: Trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. (AP)
FILE: Trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. (AP)

People retiring today are part of the first generation of workers who have paid more in Social Security taxes during their careers than they will receive in benefits after they retire. It’s a historic shift that will only get worse for future retirees, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

Previous generations got a much better bargain, mainly because payroll taxes were very low when Social Security was enacted in the 1930s and remained so for decades.

“For the early generations, it was an incredibly good deal,” said Andrew Biggs, a former deputy Social Security commissioner who is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “The government gave you free money and getting free money is popular.”

If you retired in 1960, you could expect to get back seven times more in benefits than you paid in Social Security taxes, and more if you were a low-income worker, as long you made it to age 78 for men and 81 for women.

As recently as 1985, workers at every income level could retire and expect to get more in benefits than they paid in Social Security taxes, though they didn’t do quite as well as their parents and grandparents.

Not anymore.
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