Big job losses and a spike in early retirement claims from laid-off seniors will force Social Security to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes the next 2 years, the first time that's happened since the 1980s. The deficits—$10 billion in 2010 and $9 billion in 2011—won't affect payments to retirees because Social Security has accumulated surpluses from previous years totaling $2.5 trillion. But they will add to the overall federal deficit.
Applications for retirement benefits are 23% higher than last year, while disability claims have risen by about 20%. Social Security officials had expected applications to increase from the growing number of baby boomers reaching retirement, but they didn't expect the increase to be so large. "A lot of people who in better times would have continued working are opting to retire," said a Berkeley economics and law professor. "If they were younger, we would call them unemployed."