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Social Security crater – November 2009 edition

by @ 23:38 on January 6, 2010. Filed under Social Security crater.

The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary finally got around to posting the detailed November numbers for Social Security, and things have only gotten worse:

  • The combined OASDI (Old-Age Survivors and Disability Insurance) “Trust” Funds posted a $5.858 billion primary (cash, non-“interest”) deficit for November, the worst monthly performance since monthly records began in 1987.
  • The 12-month OASDI primary surplus was only $9.598 billion, also the worst 12-month performance since monthly records began.

Since there won’t be an cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits, the combined funds may yet avoid a 12-month primary deficit in 2010 by the skin of its teeth. However, that is dependent on an improvement in the wage situation, and specifically an improvement in the job prospects of those between 62 and 67 years old. Somehow I don’t see the trend of older and higher-earning workers losing their jobs disproportionately reversing.

If you think that’s bad, the DI (Disability Insurance) portion is even worse. I had not taken a very close look at it before, but perhaps I should have because it has entered the last stage of a fund collapse – cannibalization of principal:

  • For the 50th straight month, going back to October 2005, the DI Fund ran a 12-month primary deficit, this time hitting a new high of $21.399 billion.
  • Outside of the “double tax-collection” months of January and April (when it recieves both the quarterly estimated income tax payments, also received in June and September and the quarterly tax on benefits, also received in July and October), the last time the DI Fund posted a monthly primary surplus was September 2007 (which itself is a “tax-collection” month, specifically of the quarterly estimated income tax payments). One would have to go back to March 2007 to find a month outside of a “tax-collection” month with a monthly primary surplus, and all the way back to May 2003 to find a month outside both the “tax-collection” and “tax-season” months (January through April) with a monthly primary surplus.
  • A similar monthly situation with the overall DI Fund exists – outside of the “double tax-collection” months and the semi-annual interest-crediting months (June and December), the last time it posted an overall monthly surplus was September 2007; and outside of tax or interest “enhancements”, the last overall monthly surplus was posted in July 2003.
  • All that has led to the DI Fund entering a 12-month overall (which includes the effects of “interest”) deficit beginning in February 2009, which means it is redeeming more US Treasuries than it is buying. That 12-month overall deficit, which has existed since then, has now hit $10.525 billion, the first time it topped the $10 billion mark.

Allow me to repeat that – the DI Fund is now in the final stage of a fund collapse – the exhaustion of principal. In this case, that principal, as of November 30, 2009, was $202.265 billion.

If one thinks that December, and specifically the semi-annual interest crediting that happened last month, is going to be the saving grace, the OACT has bad news. While the detailed December numbers are not available, the investment holdings for December are. I cannot explain why the investment total in that time series is consistently somewhat higher than the time series of trust fund operations linked to above, but it is close enough for government work.

The first item of note is the DI Fund investment balance. It dipped from $202.531 billion in November to $199.760 billion in December. That would be the first overall monthly deficit in December for the DI Fund since 1993, just before a change in the percentage of the payroll/self-employment tax designed to prop up the DI Fund took effect.

The second item is the OASDI Fund investment balance. It rose only $24.153 billion between November and December to $2,518.541 billion, less than half of last year’s November-to-December increase of $52.37 billion and the lowest November-to-December increase since 1997, when the OASDI Fund investment balance was $655.449 billion. I hope for this country’s sake that it’s just an anomaly. If not, then it is almost certain that the combined funds have gone into a 12-month cash deficit mode because the “interest”, which is credited on both the redeemed securities and the ending balance, should be somewhere north of $58 billion.

Revisions/extensions (7:45 am 1/7/2010) - Added the significance of the very-disappointing December OASDI Fund increase.

R&E part 2 (3:04 pm 1/7/2010) - Thanks again for the link, Ed. For those of you not coming here from Hot Air, Ed reposted charts of the last 23 months’ performance of both the OASDI and the DI “Trust” Funds.

For those of you coming here from there, stick around and enjoy the hospitality.

R&E part 3 (9:16 pm 1/15/2010) - I found at least a partial explanation of the December “anomaly” courtesy the Treasury Department – the January 3, 2010 Social Security payments were “acclerated” into 2009. A longer explanation is over here.

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