This document was prepared by Helvia Velloso, consultant of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC, Washington Office.
Prepared as a support to the document "Shaping the Future of Social Protection: Access, Financing and Solidarity" presented in the XXXI ECLAC Session Period carried out in Montevideo, Uruguay during March, 20 to 24, 2006.
The views expressed in this document, which has been reproduced without formal editing, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Organization.
In response to the challenges posed by an aging population, countries all over the world are
currently considering, or may have already enacted, fundamental structural reforms of their Social
Security Pension programs. Demographic trends and other pressures on these programs are
expected to increase sharply in coming decades. In particular, the looming retirement of the babyboom
generation, declines in fertility rates, and increases in longevity are projected to cause a
significant increase in the old-age dependency ratio: the ratio of retirees to the working-age
Social Security is considered one of the United States' most successful government
programs. Despite its success in helping millions of senior Americans avoid poverty, it faces a
long-term deficit and policymakers have been considering changes to address these problems.
The Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare systems (programs including age-related social
expenditures); continue to stress the actuarial deficits of both systems in face of the imminent
retirement of the baby-boom generation and pressures on health care costs. Moreover, the erosion
of the U.S. fiscal situation since 2001 (when projections were for large surpluses and the
elimination of public debt by 2009); and the re-emergence of budget deficits have revived
concerns regarding the impact of these demographic trends on the longer-term fiscal position.
This paper describes the Social Security system in the United States, discusses the state of
the program today and the challenges ahead. Part I is an overview of the federal programs that are
part of the social security system and provide support for the elderly, as well as of employersponsored
and private pension plans. Part II discusses the system's balance between fairness,
efficiency and sustainability, as well as income and retirement trends. Part III discusses reform
proposals, and the last section offers some concluding remarks.