The Social Security Administration is tackling the impending depletion of benefits head-on through cautionary messages on its customer phone lines and Web site, but some think the agency has gone too far and is trying to advance President Bush's plans to partially privatize Social Security, CBSMartketWatch reports.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and the union that represents the agency's employees, the American Federation of Government Employees, contend the agency is merely using scaremongering. "These tactics exploit the public's trust in SSA, to convince the public that such reform must be necessary if SSA tells them it is," said Dana Duggins, a spokeswoman for the union. Lautenberg calls the messages "inappropriate political propaganda."

People who call into SSA's phone lines hear the following message: "Did you know that the 76 million-strong Baby Boom generation will begin to retire in about 10 years? When that happens, changes will need to be made to Social Security, changes to make sure there's enough money to continue paying full benefits." Through a series of questions and answers on its Web site, SSA tells people currently age 35 that if nothing is done to reform the trust funds, by the time they reach age 73 in 2042, their benefits could be reduced 27%. The Administration implores that the system is "modernized and reformed" through personal investment accounts.

The Web site goes on to say that the system is headed for disaster: "Social Security's financing problems are long term and will not affect today's retirees and near-retirees, but they are very large and serious. People are living longer, the first Baby Boomers are five years from retirement, and the birth rate is low. The result is that the worker-to-beneficiary ratio has fallen from 16-to-1 in 1950 to 3.3-to-1 today. Within 40 years it be 2-to-1. At this ratio there will not be enough workers to pay scheduled benefits at current tax rates."

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