FROM THE TIME I started covering Washington as a reporter in 1980, politicians have been condemning the federal budget deficit. Ronald Reagan was running for president that year. He excoriated his opponent, President Jimmy Carter, for increasing the federal debt by—brace yourself—$55 billion in 1979. These days, that wouldn’t pay a week’s bar tab for Uncle Sam.
With the sole exception of Bill Clinton, every president for 40 years has added to the federal debt,
THE GOVERNMENT will be able to pay full Social Security benefits only until 2033, according to the latest trustees’ report on the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. After that, Social Security’s trust fund will be depleted—and it could only cover 76% of scheduled benefits with the money it collects in payroll taxes.
The timetable is even worse for Medicare Part A, which pays for inpatient hospital care. Its trust fund will be empty in 2026.
OUR NEPHEW JESSE, age 19, took a gap year after high school to explore meditation and work for UPS. He’s a great kid. But he had worn out his welcome with family friends in Florida, so he decided to sleep in his car.
That was in May—and that’s when we invited him to live with us in Pennsylvania.
Jesse hasn’t had an easy life. His mother died of cancer when he was four years old.
WE OWN AN OLD WHITE farmhouse in Mid-Coast Maine. When I have work done, I tell contractors to make it look exactly the same, as if the house were sealed in a snow globe.
Up here, the rural past seems close at hand. The artist Andrew Wyeth painted one peninsula over. His depiction of the Olson farm perfectly captured the rustic ideal. Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro sold vegetables out of their kitchen door.
MY 28-YEAR-OLD wanted to know how much to contribute to her retirement plan at work. As a father, this was a text that I loved to get.
In May 2020, we toasted Genevieve over Zoom when she graduated with a master’s degree in social work. Within a week, she’d landed a job helping children in foster care and their families. Now, nearly a year later, she was invited to join the retirement savings plan at work,
ONE FUN FACT I TELL my students about Daniel Kahneman: He won the Nobel Prize for economics without ever taking an economics course in college. Kahneman is a psychologist whose discoveries laid the foundation for the new science of behavioral economics.
One of his most important findings is that loss feels twice as painful to us as gain feels good, so the emotional scales aren’t balanced when we make economic decisions. For instance, workers will wait years to join a 401(k) because contributions can feel like a loss in spending power.
YOU CAN ADD ANOTHER item to the list of things in short supply: Up here in Maine, used boats are hard to find.
“You can’t buy a house, a car or a boat this summer,” said Sean, manager of the local lobster dock in Bremen, Maine. Luckily, you can still buy lobsters from Sean, though they’re mighty pricey.
Every afternoon, scuffed-up boats with names like Chomper and Sandollar glide up to the dock to winch their catch up to Sean’s lobster tanks.
A 156-YEAR-OLD newspaper company filed for reorganization in bankruptcy court last year. The company said it just couldn’t come up with the millions it owed to its pension plan. Some 24,000 current and future retirees were promised payments from that plan—and I’m one of them.
This is the story of what happened to our benefits after the pension plan failed.
For 10 years, I was lucky enough to cover Washington, DC, as a newspaper reporter.