The pandemic’s negative impact on social security

Social Security COLA
The Social Security Administration's main campus is seen in Woodlawn, Md.
Patrick Semansky | AP 2013

The Social Security trust fund has been paying out benefits using only the fund’s interest. 

That will change in 2021, when the fund itself will start being tapped to cover benefits. And by 2033, the trust fund is expected to be depleted — three years sooner than previously anticipated.

The pandemic is to blame. Not only are millions of Americans unemployed, which means fewer payroll taxes, but it’s possible many of those who are unemployed will apply for Social Security benefits as soon as they are eligible, rather than continue to look for work. 

President-elect Joe Biden has promised to shore up Social Security — partly by increasing payroll taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year. But even that would only protect the safety net for an additional five years. 

Is there hope? MPR News senior economics contributor Chris Farrell spoke with two Social Security experts about what else a Biden administration might do — and how it could affect you.


  • Nancy Altman is president of Social Security Works and chair of the Strengthen Social Security coalition.

  • Mark Miller is a journalist, author and podcaster who is a nationally-recognized expert on trends in retirement and aging.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.