I have written about the myths surrounding Social Security many times, often to be frustrated when people don’t believe me or perpetuate false information. Politicians and biased advocates don’t help the situation either. I find this myth especially important for Americans to understand and I urge you to read the full article on MarketWatch
Myth No. 6: Social Security benefits are an earned right This would be really nice. If it were true.
Unfortunately, Social Security payments are not guaranteed, and laws can be changed at any time that impact what you’ll receive in benefits. Some of the other myths on this list seem… well, a little ridiculous. But I don’t blame people for buying into this one. It seems logical, for one — but what’s more deceiving is the fact that the government has essentially encouraged the belief that Social Security benefits are guaranteed.
A 1936 pamphlet from the Social Security Administration specifically states the following: “The United States government will set up an account for you … The checks will come to you as a right.”
That sounds pretty rock solid, clear, and obvious to me. But it didn’t take long for the Supreme Court to step in and “clarify” this language for us.
In Helvering v. Davis, the Supreme Court’s language set the tone for the future. Here’s what they stated in the written opinion on the case: “The proceeds of both taxes are to be paid into the treasury like internal-revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way.”
That eliminated the idea of the separate, personal account that the Social Security pamphlet originally implied. And then, in Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court doubled down to make it very clear what the government thought about our “right” to Social Security benefits:
“There has been a temptation throughout the program’s history for some people to suppose that their FICA payroll taxes entitle them to a benefit in a legal, contractual sense. That is to say, if a person makes FICA contributions over a number of years, Congress cannot, according to this reasoning, change the rules in such a way that deprives a contributor of a promised future benefit. Under this reasoning, benefits under Social Security could probably only be increased, never decreased, if the Act could be amended at all. Congress clearly had no such limitation in mind when crafting the law.”
If there was any doubt left about an individual’s “right” to a Social Security benefit, this court case should’ve banished it completely.