First, let me say that I firmly believe that Social Security will still be in place in 20, 30, even 50+ years. However, I also firmly believe that something will have to change and that benefits will be calculated differently than they are today. I think you will probably see some, or all, of the following changes: increasing full retirement age (along with possibly increasing early claiming age and increasing the age when benefits stop accruing - for example, instead of 62-66/67-70, it might be 64-68-71, or something along those lines); changing the way benefits are calculated; doing away with the income cap on Social Security taxes; overall benefit reduction. There are other things that can be done, but those are some of the areas that they could amend relatively "easily" but that could increase the longevity of the program, while not decreasing any one person's benefits too much.
I just can't see a scenario where Congress does away with the system as a whole. That would mean that you would have some people who had been paying Social Security taxes their entire careers who would then see no benefit in retirement from it. For better or worse, I believe that SS is now woven into the fabric of our nation, but that does not mean that we can't make some changes to the system to ensure its continued survival and benefit.
And in theory, the system should always be able to sustain itself in some measure since it is current workers that are effectively paying the benefits to current retirees. The issue we are facing right now is the fact that there are fewer workers per retiree, so there is a larger burden on current workers than in the past. That is purely a demographic phenomenon that really can't be helped or changed. So, to make it less taxing (no pun intended) on workers now, and in the future, I think you will have to see some changes to the system as a whole.
That being said, even though I think the system will be in existence indefinitely, I also think it is wise for younger people (say 45 and below, give or take) to plan as if Social will pay less than half of what their estimated benefits are at the present time. You can even run a plan that does' take SS into account at all, which would be an even more conservative way to calculate things. Either way, if your plan is successful with a greatly reduced, or even non-existent SS benefit, then any money you do receive from SS (which again, I think will be something) is icing on the cake.
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