Mailbag: Readers don't like our ruling on Marco Rubio's Social Security claim

Readers tell us what they thought of our recent reports.
Readers tell us what they thought of our recent reports.

Freshman U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., gave a highly anticipated and hyped address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Aug. 23, 2011, where Rubio continued his call for a smaller, fundamentally different and more conservative federal government.

To illustrate part of the problem with government, Rubio referenced Social Security, saying:

"We built a government and its programs without any account whatsoever for how we were going to pay for it. There was not thought given into how this was going to be sustained. When Social Security first started, there was 16 workers for every retiree. Today there are only three for every retiree and soon there will only be two for every retiree."

At PolitiFact Florida, we focused on the numbers behind Rubio's claim and rated it True, using data from the Social Security Administration.

But readers said we missed the broader point. Here's a sampling of their responses (edited for length and style).

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"With all due respect, this kind of 'fact check' – which you do all the time – ends up being more muddying than clarifying and allows a misuse of the statistics.

"Was Rubio right in his 16-to-1 ratio? Yes. But that is entirely unhelpful because you fail to point out that the program was designed from the start to have a high ratio, then become lower. Any start-up program involving pensions does. The folks who designed Social Security took this into account from the beginning and knew the ratio would become lower. They designed it that way on purpose."

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"The 16 workers  to 1 beneficiary ratio occurred during a time of low wages. Why didn't y'all mention this fact? Lower wages of the 1940s and '50s went up and up and up it takes fewer workers to cover one benefit.

"I think y'all really goofed on this. I hope it was just a dopey mistake."

• • •

"I hope you will consider publishing a correction of your Truth-O-Meter on Sen. Rubio’s statement about Social Security.

"You’re confusing the truth of Sen. Rubio's numbers with the truth of his claim.  He used real numbers to make a false claim.

"It is true that the ratio of workers to retiree changed between the early 1950s and the present.  But that was entirely anticipated at the time.  He falsely claimed that 'there was not thought given into how this was going to be sustained,' and falsely implies that the actuaries at the time of the system did not plan for the change in the number of workers to retirees.

"But, in fact, there was a lot of thought and careful analysis about long-term costs, and those costs were estimated quite accurately.

"Rubio’s claim is Mostly False. He uses numbers that are right, but in a context that quite badly misrepresents the history. He’s not alone, of course.  Alan Simpson and many others continually claim that the increase in the ratio of workers to retirees is some sort of surprise. But that claim is quite false. Those are the facts, and Sen. Rubio got them wrong."