Social Security is sagging a bit under the retirement of the large boomer population, and lawmakers have proposed raising taxes on high earners, cutting benefits or some combination of the two.
And while doing so would add risk—both financial and political—to the program, other countries do hold equities as well as bonds in their retirement programs.
The brief indicates that, despite the potential for added risk, the addition of equities could improve the health of the Social Security trust fund.
The brief, from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, looks at the debate over whether equities are an appropriate addition to the trust fund, and also does a back study to see how Social Security would have performed if equities had been added in the past. It then does a forward-looking study to project how it might perform in the future.
Using historical returns based on reported returns of the Wilshire 5000 and the Ibbotson Large Cap Index, the brief explored the possible past performance of the trust fund assuming that the percentage in equities was phased in at 2.67 percentage points per year. It ran two projections, one beginning in 1984 and the second in 1997, in both cases assuming the 2.67 percent phase-in of equities, and found that, despite two stock market slumps and a financial crisis, strong historical average equity returns would have increased trust fund balances regardless of the year in which it began—1984 or 1997.
For the forward-looking projection, Monte Carlo simulations projected the range of outcomes for future equity returns, with equity returns assumed to be lower than in the past: 6.6 percent, compared with 9.5 percent. And there too the addition of equities improved outcomes.