Thanks to the wonder of the internet, I recently learned the meaning of the "third rail of politics" metaphor so often used to describe verboten government programs like Social Security.
According to Wikipedia, the third rail is a high-voltage rail used to power trains in some electric railway systems and, being electrified, would likely kill anyone who touched it. This seems an appropriate metaphor since no major politician wants to tackle the funding problems associated with Social Security, even though there are some relatively simple fixes. Ultimately, the third rail goes untouched for fear of the outcome.
Since I've been getting more questions lately about the structure and health of the Social Security system, it seems appropriate to touch on some higher-level factoids about the program.
Social Security provides retirement benefits to over 40 million beneficiaries each year, and to millions more spouses, dependents, and survivors of deceased workers.
The average monthly benefit is $1,350 and 30% of retirees receive less than $1,000.
Social Security benefits make up more than half of the household income for more than half of married retirees.
For a chunk of retirees, Social Security is over 90% of their income and without it, half of all retirees would live in poverty. (14% of seniors currently live in poverty anyway – recall the average benefit numbers listed above and imagine trying to live on that.)