Columnist

President Trump is obsessed with a wall, and he claims it’s necessary to make the U.S. border with Mexico safer. He shut down the government for 35 days to make his point.

But there’s a bigger crisis looming.

Many Americans don’t have enough money saved for retirement. And the social safety net a lot of these folks will have to rely on — Social Security — is facing a shortfall, that if not fixed, will result in lower benefit payments.

The reserves for the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivor benefits, will be unable to pay full benefits in 2034, according to the last year’s report from trustees for the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. The Disability Insurance Trust Fund, which pays disability benefits, will no longer be able to pay full benefits in 2032.

This is the crisis Congress should be fighting over not a wall, steel barrier or fence on the Mexican border.

“Both Social Security and Medicare face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing,” the trustees said.

Without a fix, Social Security will only have enough continuing tax income to pay out 77 percent of scheduled. The Disability Trust Fund is a little better shape, which will have enough to cover only 96 percent of scheduled benefits when its reserves are depleted in 2032.

“Lawmakers have a broad continuum of policy options that would close or reduce the long-term financing shortfall of both programs," the trustees said urging lawmakers to take action as soon as possible so a number of solutions can be considered.

“Earlier action will also help elected officials minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, including lower-income workers and people already dependent on program benefits,” the trustees said.

Out-of-pocket health-care costs likely to take half of Social Security income by 2030, analysis shows

Nearly six in 10 retirees (57 percent) rely on Social Security as their major source of income, according to a 2018 Gallup poll.

While more people are saving in a workplace plan it’s still not enough.

“Social Security remains the bedrock of seniors' financial security,” wrote Lydia Saad, a senior editor at Gallup. “To date, non-retirees' 401(k) or other retirement plans have not emerged as a complete substitute.”

Fewer than half — 46 percent — retirees reported last year that a 401(k) or other retirement savings account was a major retirement income source for them, according to the Gallup findings.

“Non-retirees' best hope could be for the nation's leaders to come together soon to provide the adjustments Social Security needs in order to ensure seniors continue to receive what's owed to them from their working years,” Saad wrote.

If a wall called Peaches can shut down the government for more than a month, I can only imagine the nasty battle ahead on fixing the Social Security shortfall. The time is now to start negotiations to ensure this financial lifeline for so many isn’t disrupted.

Your Thoughts

So, what’s more important to you? Is it the a border wall or a solution to the Social Security funding issue? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state.

Read more:

Worried about cuts to Social Security? Here’s the bible on navigating this retirement benefit.

The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

The top regrets of retirees

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

On the issue of Social Security, Luz Flores of Lakewood, Calif., wrote, “It’s hard to take too seriously all the panicked voices warning, ‘You cannot survive in retirement on Social Security alone,’ when many of us know people who do. I have a cousin and my husband does, too, who both get by, and one of them lives in a very high cost area. Of course they live very frugally. Both have paid-off mortgages. Maybe the rant should be, ‘You can live on Social Security if you have no debt.’”

Yes, you should pay off your mortgage before retiring.

Bob Esty, a retired teacher from Maryland, said he is loving retirement.My wife and I have traveled around the U.S., and I’ve had much more time to play Irish and other folk music,” he wrote. “We’ve been fortunate in that an inheritance enabled us to pay off our mortgage. My wife has also since retired, and we are so busy we don’t know how we found time to work! The one cloud in our financial sky is that we do not have long-term disability insurance. My advice to my younger self would be to save early and often, to engage in long term investment in the stock market, especially when younger, and to bear in mind that many people complain that they didn’t retire early enough, but very few complain that they should have kept on working. We were both determined not to be part of an all-too-frequent story of people retiring late and then passing on within months.”

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