Donald Trump doesn't think Social Security's problems require significant changes, but Ben Carson believes that big change needs to happen -- even if gradually -- to protect Social Security's future.
In Carson's opinion, that change should include a hike in the full retirement age. Can his plan to delay Social Security benefits overcome retiree objections? Read on to learn more about Carson's Social Security strategy.
Carson points out that when Social Security was established in the 1930s, Americans' average life expectancy was about 63 years. Today, the average American will live to about 79 years old, and medical advances mean that future Americans will live even longer.
That creates a big problem, because Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system. Current recipient payments are funded by taxes on current workers.
In the past, that system has worked, but with baby boomers increasingly leaving the workforce, the population of American workers to American retirees is shrinking, and that has policy experts warning that without changes, Social Security benefits will need to be cut for everyone beginning as soon as 2034.
If that were to happen, it could push millions of low- and moderate-income seniors into poverty. According to the Social Security Administration, over half of elderly retired couples count on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income.
Gradually raising the age
Carson hasn't said how high he'd increase the full retirement age for Social Security, but he has indicated that boosting the age beyond its current peak of 67 is important to Social Security's solvency. Carson has also said that his plan to increase the Social Security age will be done slowly so that current recipients and people who are close to retirement aren't affected.
He argues that gradually increasing the age will provide younger Americans with an opportunity to adjust their savings plans so that more money can be socked away during their working years, thereby reducing Americans' reliance on the program.
That makes sense, because Social Security was designed to supplement retiree income, not account for the majority of it.
However, shifting the responsibility of retirement savings back to potentially cash-strapped workers may not work without other changes.
The Employee Benefits Research Institute reports that more than one in four Americans is not at all confident or not too confident of having enough money to live comfortably in retirement, and a big reason for that is lackluster retirement savings caused by the pressure of day-to-day expenses.
Carson has suggested that interest rates should be able to float higher so that savers can earn a better rate of return in less risky investments, such as CDs.
He's also made comments in the past that indicate he would like to see wealthier Americans forgo their Social Security benefits, so that more money is available to those who are needier. One proposal he mentioned is to allow Americans who opt out of Social Security to receive a tax credit instead.
Additionally, he's said that he's open to considering other ideas his opponents have proposed, such as means-testing high-income earners so that they receive less in Social Security when they retire.
It's unclear what age Carson will ultimately pick for the full retirement age and how committed he is to these other ideas, but there is one idea he's absolutely against. Last August, he said he wouldn't consider raising Social Security taxes. Regardless, it would seem that Americans are going to be increasingly responsible for their retirement income.