CNN Money published an article today on Social Security and Medicare that, as is characteristic of mainstream reporting on these programs, misinforms readers about the country's long-term fiscal picture. Fortunately, the misinformation can be easily debunked -- in part, by looking at the chart CNN used with the article.
The very first sentence of the CNN Money article:
Critical to reining in the United States' long-term debt will be finding ways to control the burgeoning costs of Medicare and Social Security, both of which will face serious funding shortfalls over the next two decades.
But immediately above this sentence, CNN Money was kind enough to include this chart:
The chart shows that "entitlements' growing share of [the] economy" is really just Medicare's growing share of the economy -- and higher spending on Medicare is a result of rising health care costs. Social Security costs are not "burgeoning," and to claim that they are does a disservice to CNN's readers.
This is one of the most common and pernicious pieces of misinformation surrounding Social Security, the nearly universal social insurance program that keeps 20 million Americans out of poverty. The CNN Money article conflates spending on Social Security and Medicare, asserting that it is "[c]ritical" for the costs of both programs to be "control[led]" if the U.S. is to overcome its long-term debt challenges. This is false.
The truth about long-term Social Security costs is that they are projected to rise slightly in the coming decades, stabilizing at just over 6 percent of GDP for the next 75 years. There is no legitimate reason to conflate Social Security and Medicare when talking about spending and debt.
The article closes by saying that "one thing is certain" -- that the political debate surrounding soon-to-be released reports on the financial status Social Security and Medicare "will likely spawn more of a rhetorical firestorm than a serious bipartisan debate." CNN Money, along with the most of the mainstream media, seems intent on making that prediction a reality.