Henry Aaron

Henry J. Aaron is a Senior Fellow in the Economic Studies department at the Brookings Institution.

Recent Articles

How to Keep Social Security Secure

Here’s a plan that eliminates the long-term shortfall in its finances and updates the system for the 21st century.

This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . For the last 35 years, official government projections have reported that Social Security will be unable to pay some scheduled benefits sometime in the middle third of this century. For almost as long, the Congressional Budget Office has annually warned that the overall federal budget is on an unsustainable trajectory. Conservatives, some of whom still yearn to roll back the New Deal and Great Society, point to these projections as support for their claim that we can no longer afford Social Security, Medicare, and other so-called “entitlements.” Their declared strategy involves sowing doubts about the sustainability of these programs and creating a coalition to scale back or replace them. So far, this campaign has enjoyed little legislative success, but the talk of crisis has made many people very nervous. Roughly two-thirds of the American public tell pollsters that Social...

Triumph and Tribulation

How progressives might approach changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

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Our Best Anti-Poverty Program

Why does the United States and every other developed nation have a system of social-insurance pensions? The simple answer is that social insurance is intended to ensure basic income to those no longer able to work. These include the elderly, the disabled, orphans, and widows and widowers with small children. “Ensure” means that incomes must be available reliably; “basic” means that government's obligation is limited. That is why social-insurance pensions typically replace a larger fraction of earnings of those at the bottom of the wage ladder than those at the top. Social Security benefits also rise as average earnings increase. As Bernard Wasow of The Century Foundation points out, in 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, “basic” may not have included indoor plumbing and running water in much of the country. There are alternatives to social insurance. One approach would leave entirely to individuals the task of saving for retirement...