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Social Security Series Part 1: The Dilemma

GAO-23-106667 Published: May 18, 2023. Publicly Released: May 18, 2023.
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Fast Facts

Social Security is a major source of income for millions of retirees and other Americans. As program costs continue to exceed revenues, the fund that supports payments for retirees and their families is projected to be unable to pay full benefits in 10 years.

This brief updates our 2015 report on Social Security and examines financial issues the program faces.

The sooner policymakers address the financial challenges, the more gradually changes can be phased in. This would give workers more time to adjust to any changes and factor them into retirement plans.

Social Security’s costs are projected to exceed its revenues for decades to come

A graph showing the costs versus revenues in the Social Security program

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What GAO Found

Since 2010, the fund that SSA uses to pay benefits to retirees has been paying out more money than it has been receiving in taxes. At the current rate, the fund's trustees estimate that it will exhaust its reserves in 2033 and be unable to pay full scheduled benefits. The sooner actions are taken to address these financial challenges, the more gradually changes can be phased in and workers would have more time to adjust to any changes and factor them into their retirement plans.

What Is the Dilemma with Social Security

Social Security provides cash benefits to over 66 million retirees, people with disabilities, and others, as of January 2023. For many retirees, these benefits make up a substantial portion of their monthly retirement income, particularly for people with relatively low career earnings.

Despite its importance to the retirement income of many Americans, significant financial challenges threaten the Social Security Administration's (SSA) long-term ability to continue to pay retirees and other beneficiaries full benefits.

This is the first in a series of reports that outline (1) Social Security's financial challenges, (2) criteria for evaluating options for reforming Social Security, and (3) types of proposed reforms. This first report focuses on Social Security's financial challenges.

For more information, contact Tranchau (Kris) T. Nguyen at (202) 512-7215 or

Full Report

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WorkersPayroll taxesTrust fundsSocial security benefitsRetireesSocial security reformDisability insuranceRetirement ageBeneficiariesRetirement income