But with tens of millions of people out of work, Larson and others think the outbreak could spark a newfound appreciation for Social Security, both as a reliable monthly payment and an economic stabilizer.
“I think it will come out of this pandemic looking really good and that people will value it a lot,” said Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
The pressure to find a long-term funding fix will be compounded by the fact that the program serves the population most vulnerable to the virus — older adults, particularly minorities and low-income individuals, Larson noted.
If Democrats win the White House and control a majority of Congress, there could be momentum around proposals to increase benefits, impose the payroll tax on higher-income taxpayers and institute a wealth tax in order to generate more revenue, Auerbach said.
Trump has vowed not to cut Social Security, but Republicans have sought in the past to curb federal spending on the program.
The president is now pushing a payroll tax cut in the next round of pandemic relief, which both Republicans and Democrats worry would harm the social safety net and do little for the tens of millions of people who aren’t collecting a paycheck.
The Trump administration has also considered — and rejected — a plan penned by two conservative scholars that would allow Americans to receive checks of up to $5,000 in exchange for a delay of their Social Security benefits, The Washington Post reported.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley said in a statement that “the mere thought of this so-called ‘plan‘ is ludicrous on its face — as President Trump has been clear that while he is in office, the American people can feel secure without a shadow of a doubt that he will completely protect Social Security and Medicare — end of story, full stop.“
Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on earnings of up to $137,700, with the tax split evenly by employees and their employers. About 40 years ago, Congress set the taxable earnings cap to cover about 90 percent of all wages, with increases annually to reflect average wage growth. But in 2017, the cap only covered 83 percent of earnings, thanks to rising wage inequality and growing health care costs.