(LIN) — Since the first day of your first job, you've played a role in the largest legalized Ponzi scheme in the county, and probably never realized it.
It's bigger than Bernie Madoff and more complicated than the most complex scandals.
It's Social Security.
The official definition of a Ponzi scheme describes it as the payment of returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.
As young Americans, we're all in this Ponzi scheme together.
We are funding the retirement of millions, all the while the deficit continues to reach new, frightening levels. Last year, an estimated 56 million people were receiving Social Security, but 158 million were paying into the system.
Since our first paycheck, we've played into this system, expecting it will be there for us some day in the distant future.
That expectation is sounding like a pipe dream a little more each day.
The program's own trustees have stated in the 2012 reports that the cost of Social Security has continued to exceed the program's tax income and non-interest income. In short, it's not too far fetched to believe by the time Gen Y reaches retirement age, unless there's a shift in how the system is operated, there either won't be any funds available for us, or the credit needed to pay that bill will be so great, it'd be hard to find supporters to back it.
Put simply, young Americans have the most to lose if Social Security tanks.
Obama said in last week's debate, "Social Security is structurally sound."
Romney brought up in the debate that he generally agrees with Obama, and neither of the candidates will bring about changes for current or near retirees, "but for younger people, we need to talk about what changes are going to be occurring," Romney said.
The conversation progressed into one on Medicare and Social Security wasn't addressed again.
This is a problem, but it's not one we should depend on politicians to fix.
While it is the responsibility of our generation to be informed on who is making these decisions for us, it is also our responsibility to push the envelope and try new approaches to taking care of our future. It's time to stop depending on others and expecting our government to take care of us indefinitely.
Here's another scary fact. Social Security trustees, in their latest report , say that trust fund reserves funding Social Security will be exhausted in 2033. What does that mean to today's 26-year-old, whose retirement year is 2057?
The irony is, many want young people to care more about Social Security, but lawmakers and politicians are giving us more of a reason to worry by either making it more expensive for us to pay for the program, or draining it by the time we can receive benefits.
Now is the time to demand answers from policymakers and ask, repeatedly, how long will we have to continue to pay into something that may or may not pay us back some day?
More importantly, it's time to become independent and take other measures to secure our futures. Invest and save the money you can to make sure you're setting yourself up for some sort of retirement.
After all, it's seems that looking out for ourselves is the only way to actually reap the benefits of hard work.
Gen Y is a weekly opinion piece covering issues that matter most to younger, influential voters through their late 30s. Jessica O. Swink, a 20-something, is the digital political producer for LIN Media and contributing editor to onPolitix.
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