The Growth in Social Security Benefits Among the Retirement-Age Population from Increases in the Cap on Covered Earnings
Social Security Bulletin 72(2): 49-61, 2012
13 Pages Posted: 3 May 2012 Last revised: 25 Apr 2015
Date Written: May 1, 2012
Analysts have proposed raising the maximum level of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax (the "tax max") to improve long-term Social Security Trust Fund solvency. This article investigates how raising the tax max leads to the "leakage" of portions of the additional revenue into higher benefit payments. Using Health and Retirement Study data matched to Social Security earnings records, we compare historical payroll tax payments and benefit amounts for Early Boomers (born 1948–1953) with tax and benefit simulations had they been subject to the tax max (adjusted for wage growth) faced by cohorts 12 and 24 years older. We find that 43.2 percent of the additional payroll tax revenue attributable to tax max increases affecting Early Boomers relative to taxes paid by the cohort 12 years older leaked into higher benefits. For Early Boomers relative to those 24 years older, we find 53.5 percent leakage.
Keywords: Social Security, Maximum covered earnings, Maximum benefits, tax max, Trends in Social Security benefits, Social Security benefits, Social Security taxes, Health and Retirement Study
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation