Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both say they oppose cutting Social Security. But that pledge is meaningless without a plan to address the program's coming shortfall. If you guessed that Clinton is the only candidate who has made a stab at a serious answer, you would, of course, be right. But we should give close scrutiny to Trump's supposed solution as well, even if it is a lot of fairy dust.
Here's the problem. Social Security has had a cash-flow shortage since 2015, when expenses first began to exceed tax receipts. Last year's gap was $84 billion, out of $880 billion paid in benefits to 59 million people. The shortfall will keep growing and will need to be covered out of the trust fund's $2.7 trillion surplus, now invested in U.S. Treasuries.
By 2034, when even the surplus is likely to be depleted, the program must depend on payroll taxes alone. At that point, if nothing changes, beneficiaries will get only about three-fourths of promised benefits.