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New data on Social Security’s finances packs a political punch

New data on Social Security's finances offered fresh evidence: President Joe Biden is helping strengthen the system as Donald Trump threatens to weaken it.


It was a couple of months ago when the Republican Study Committee released a controversial budget plan that, among other things, endorsed going after Social Security and Medicare. This, not surprisingly, generated some swift pushback from the programs’ Democratic champions.

Soon after, however, Donald Trump apparently thought he could try to turn the tables. In late March, the former president insisted that it was Democrats who were in the process of “killing” Social Security “by allowing the INVASION OF THE MIGRANTS.”

None of this made any sense. In fact, it was a reminder that the presumptive Republican nominee still, even now, doesn’t understand the basics of how Social Security works: As a Washington Post fact-check report explained, “Undocumented immigrants improve the health of Social Security and Medicare by paying payroll taxes without receiving benefits.”

Trump, in other words, had reality backwards.

This week, the idea that Democrats are “killing” the Social Security system became even sillier. NBC News reported:

The trust funds the Social Security Administration relies on to pay benefits are now projected to run out in 2035, one year later than previously projected, according to the annual trustees’ report released on Monday. ... The Social Security trustees credited the slightly improved outlook to more people contributing to the program amid a strong economy, low unemployment and higher job and wage growth.

In other words, despite longer-term challenges facing the system, Biden-era economic growth has been so strong that the Social Security system’s finances have gotten better, not worse.

“This year’s report is a measure of good news for the millions of Americans who depend on Social Security, including the roughly 50% of seniors for whom Social Security is the difference between poverty and living in dignity — any potential benefit reduction event has been pushed off from 2034 to 2035,” Social Security Commissioner Martin O’Malley said in a statement.

O’Malley also took the opportunity to urge Congress to extend the trust fund’s solvency “as it did in the past on a bipartisan basis.”

Given that such a move would require Republicans to accept some concessions on tax policy, this seems extraordinarily unlikely.

But complicating matters further is the fact Trump appears desperate to launch the largest and most aggressive mass-deportation program in generations. No matter what one’s opinion might be about immigration, there’s no great mystery as to what such a move would do to Social Security: It would weaken the system’s financial health.

It’s really not that complicated. When employers hire undocumented workers, many of whom rely on fraudulent Social Security numbers, the businesses subtract payroll taxes that go toward the Social Security and Medicare systems. Those workers, however, will not receive Social Security and Medicare benefits — because they’re ineligible — which means each of those employees is inadvertently strengthening the programs’ finances: They’re putting money into the system without taking anything out.

(Why would they do that? Because even after the payroll taxes are subtracted, these workers believe they’ll make more money than they would in the countries they left behind.)

If Trump were to implement a mass-deportation program, and succeeded in removing millions of undocumented workers, that would weaken Social Security’s and Medicare’s finances and accelerate the social-insurance programs’ insolvency. The former president might not understand any of this, but voters should.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.