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Huckabee says Social Security imperiled by dramatic decline in wage-earners

The statement

"One of the reasons that Social Security is in so much trouble is that the only funding stream comes from people who get a wage. The people who get wages is declining dramatically."

Mike Huckabee, Aug. 6, in a Republican presidential debate

The ruling

While payroll taxes make up the bulk of the program's income — contributing about $750 billion in revenue in 2014 — Huckabee ignores two other sources of revenue that provided support for Social Security. One is that some beneficiaries pay taxes on their Social Security income. For 2014, the revenue collected this way came out to $29.7 billion.

Another method of funding for Social Security comes from interest earnings on investments on the $2.8 trillion worth of reserves in Social Security. This amounted to $98.2 billion in 2014.

It's unclear exactly what kind of time line Huckabee was using when he referred to the "dramatically declining" number of people getting wages, and Huckabee's campaign did not respond to us.

But going by the raw numbers, at least, there's been no decline in the ranks of wage earners at all. The total civilian labor force has been steadily increasing since 1948, the first year the Bureau of Labor Statistics started counting it, with a brief stagnation at the height of the recent recession. The labor force participation rate — which measures people who are working age and either employed or looking for a job — has fallen since the Great Recession, partly due to economic trends but also due to the aging of the baby boom generation.

More useful for the purposes of Huckabee's claim is a look at the total number of people paying into Social Security. In 2013, the number of wage and salary contributors to Social Security (a different category from those who are self-employed, though their earnings are also taxed for Social Security) was virtually the same as in 2007, and one expert predicted that it had probably continued to go up in 2014 and 2015.

So the total number of people in the labor force and paying into Social Security is about the same as it was before the recession, not a dramatic decline.

However, Jagadeesh Gokhale of Wharton School's Public Policy Initiative said Huckabee would have been more accurate if he had phrased his claim more carefully. The number of wage earners is indeed decreasing in relation to the number of Social Security beneficiaries. This is happening due to the increase of baby boomer recipients. When a boomer retires, it's a double whammy — the retirement shrinks the number of wage earners while increasing the number of beneficiaries.

Huckabee has reason to be concerned about the number of wage earners supporting Social Security. It's just that he didn't correctly describe the problem.

On balance, we rate the claim Mostly False.

Christian Belanger, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at