In the wake of the surprising election results of November, the question of "fake news" and its impact on voters is gaining traction.
Facebook recently announced a fact-check initiative to battle questionable content from tainting the discussion of public issues such as Social Security. Long story short, Facebook wants to engage private parties with private interests to separate real news from fake news.
This strategy begs the question: Who is going to fact-check the fact-checkers?
This is a serious question because in the first match-up of fake-news and real news, fake-news won. Specifically, Politifact, one of the Facebook fact-checkers, recently flagged an article by New Century Times entitled "Republicans Looking To Cut Social Security As Much As 50% Immediately." Sadly enough, fake-news crushed real news on the standards of fact.
In a response to questions about the article, the author said that the fact-checker misread the headline. The word "immediately" refers to how quickly a GOP congressman introduced the subject of benefit cuts. The New Century Times piece does have some wording problems, which enable the reader to jump to the wrong conclusion. This is not a problem of facts, but one of word choice.
The fact-checker’s evaluation, on the other hand, has numerous factual errors. The review summarizes its position by saying:
"…by highlighting cuts as large as 50 percent without noting that these are for a specific (and affluent) subset of beneficiaries, the headline engages in extreme cherry picking. And none of these massive cuts would happen immediately — they would happen 34 and 54 years in the future."
These cuts are not 34 years away. The results are not cherry picked. These cuts are not specifically for the affluent. And yes the cuts for those affected are both massive and immediate.
The proposed changes reach full impact in about 15 years, and hits someone who is 47 today. Almost all of the changes will be implemented in 13 years.
· People as old as 55 (today) with my work record would see benefit reductions of 50 percent starting in 6 years.
· The Social Security Administration estimates that about 50 percent of the lowest wage seniors would see benefit cuts ranging from 25 to 50 percent.
These reductions are not isolated to a subset of affluent people. The changes to age typically affect people more who are less wealthy. The Chain-CPI lowers the buying power of benefits progressively as people age. Data from the Social Security suggests that dependency on this support rises as people age. Hence this legislation actually targets the checks of those most in need.
The analysis also fails to note the full reductions fall on the exact same audience that was targeted by the reforms in 1983. In conjunction, a typical worker who is 49 would need to work 4 additional years for 4 fewer years of benefits.
Statistically how much longer is this worker collecting benefits? The SSA research says that the life expectancy of a retiree is growing about 20 days per cohort, or about 2.5 years over a working career. Because of the changes to Social Security in 1983, the 49 year-old already expects to have a lower life expectancy in retirement than someone born nearly 3 decades earlier.
Some of the differences here can be explained by the meaning of words. In my mind, the benefit cut of 30 percent on someone who is 49 today is massive and immediate because that person has to radically change their life today in order to maintain their retirement plan.
While I may disagree with the fact-checkers over the meaning of words, I certainly wish Facebook and its allies well in its endeavor. Americans deserve an honest discussion about the nation’s largest expense, about a program that is a life line for millions, about a program that is heading for crisis to mathematical certainty.
Today we have a shouting match in which the middle recoils from the noise. There is only one possible outcome: polarized standstill.
Brenton Smith writes on all aspects of Social Security reform, translating the numbers and jargon of the issue into terms that everyone can understand. His work has appeared in Forbes, MarketWatch, Fox Business, The Hill, and a number of regional newspapers. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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