Changing Social Security to Achieve Long-Term Solvency and Make Other Improvements - Background Factors, Issues, Options

33 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2012 Last revised: 26 Apr 2012

Date Written: April 25, 2012


For years those responsible for Social Security and policy analysts have acknowledged that the present statutory framework for determining and financing program benefits is unsustainable. Nonetheless, despite the work of Presidential commissions, countless Congressional hearings, proposals for reform advanced by individuals and groups across the political spectrum, changes to Social Security that would restore its fiscal balance into the foreseeable future have repeatedly been deferred or deflected by the nation’s law-makers.

This paper aims to assist analysis of and reflection on the range of options for ensuring Social Security’s future while not adding yet another solvency proposal to the already ample supply. It begins with several background observations. These are followed by a discussion of personal (or private) accounts to which former President George W. Bush gave salience and which continue to be included among the talking points of politicians hostile to Social Security’s fundamental structure. Next the paper reviews the more likely program changes that would (unlike personal accounts) directly address Social Security’s long-term "deficit." That section is followed by one sketching possible revisions in the program’s benefit structure designed to achieve ends other than reducing Social Security expenditures. The paper concludes with some observations on the role that framing has played in past debates over Social Security’s future. Finally, there is an appendix explaining the central terms and components of the current program. It is provided for readers who might otherwise be unclear about the meaning or implications of changing Social Security’s "Primary Insurance Amount" formula or its "Full Retirement Age."

Keywords: Social Security, retirement, disability, marital, poverty, women, elderly

Suggested Citation

Martin, Peter W., Changing Social Security to Achieve Long-Term Solvency and Make Other Improvements - Background Factors, Issues, Options (April 25, 2012). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-13, Available at SSRN: or

Peter W. Martin (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901


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