By Chris Adams

It’s one of the most intractable problems in the U.S. political and economic system: The looming shortfall in Social Security.

It also could be one of the one of the easiest to solve – if you let mathematicians solve it. Unfortunately, politicians get in the way.

That’s the assessment of Polina Vlasenko, a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research.

“We knew about the problem 20 years ago,” she told National Press Foundation fellows. “We knew how to solve it about the same time. Why haven’t we been able to solve it?”

The reason, of course, is the lack of political will to make the kind of decisions that will cause people – voters – to lose benefits.

Vlasenko led fellows through the big picture on Social Security, giving an overview of how Social Security (payroll) taxes come in and how the government sets the monthly benefit level for recipients. She then reviewed the funding challenges the system faces. Bottom line: Social Security is running out of money, and current projections show the system being insolvent in 2034.

The only way around that is to find additional revenue or to reduce outlays – meaning benefits. “There are no painless options,” she said. “Some group or groups will be adversely affected by any reform measure.”

Among the wide range of proposals, Vlasenko pointed to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, which crunched the numbers on 36 different potential fixes.

For other reports by the American Institute for Economic Research, Vlasenko pointed reporters to reports such as on how to reform Social Security and another on various ways to “spread the pain around.”