On February 12, 2008, the nation's first Baby Boomer, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, was the first of her generation to receive a Social Security retirement benefit. Born one second after midnight on January 1, 1946, Ms. Casey-Kirschling was born just eleven years after the Social Security system was originally enacted, nine years after the first Social Security payroll taxes were collected, and six years after the system first began to pay monthly retirement benefits.
"As the nation's first Baby Boomer, Ms. Casey-Kirschling is leading what is often referred to as America's silver tsunami. Over the next two decades, nearly eighty million Americans will become eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, more than 10,000 per day on average."
Due to the arrival of this silver tsunami, the Social Security system's costs are rapidly accelerating. In addition, the Social Security system faces a long-term deficit. Accordingly, lawmakers and commentators have offered a multitude of proposals to reform the Social Security system. The proposals range from those that would fundamentally restructure the system by directing some Social Security contributions to individual accounts, to those that would retain the system's current structure but make incremental changes, such as increasing the taxable wage base and/or increasing the normal retirement age.
Just as the proposals for reform vary widely, their impact on the structure of the Social Security system as well as on individual beneficiaries vary widely. This Article discusses the principles that should guide reform of the Social Security system. Part II describes the fundamental principles that underlie the current system. Part III then turns to the principles that should guide reform.