Social Security Facing Major Problems as It Turns 80

As Social Security approaches its 80th birthday Friday, the federal government’s largest benefit program stands at a pivotal point in its history.

Relatively modest changes to taxes and benefits could still save it for generations of Americans to come, but Congress must act quickly, and even limited changes are politically difficult.

The longer lawmakers wait, the harder it will become to maintain Social Security as a program that pays for itself, a key feature since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935.

“The more time that they take, the less acceptable the changes will be because there needs to be adequate time for the public to prepare and to adjust to whatever changes Congress will make,” Carolyn Colvin, acting commissioner of the Social Security Administration, said in an interview.

Social Security’s long-term financial problems are largely a result of demographic changes. As baby boomers swell the ranks of retirees, relatively fewer workers are left to pay taxes.