This project for an Economics, Accounting or Statistics class utilizes public information on the Internet (including the Social Security Administration website) to compare Social Security benefits with a comparably-funded private retirement account.
All of the instructions and tables are provided in the attached Excel-format spreadsheet, other than data that needs to be culled directly from the Social Security Administration website (and instructions on how to pull that data is provided).
The project is in three phases:
1. Each student takes an income level profile (different income quintiles, as well as different years of retirement -- such as at the bottom of a stock market crash) and contrasts their Social Security benefits with an alternative private investment fund (S&P 500, 3-month Treasury Bills, 10-year Treasury Bills) and fills in the provided Excel Spreadsheet to get a monthly benefit comparison.
2. The students present their data in a class wiki
3. Using the information in the class wiki, along with outside research, each student writes a research paper, making a proposal for whether Social Security should engage in any policy changes.
Learning outcomes: Advanced of Microsoft Excel (or Open Office Sheets), cooperative learning, statistical formulas, research and persuasive writing.
(Note: Only the OASI portion of the Social Security FICA tax is computed in this project; Disability and Medicare are not part of the project.)
Disclaimer: This is a challenging college-level project that high school students who are not at the honors/AP level will find difficult to accomplish. Also, this project will work well in Excel, OpenOffice Sheets or Apple's Numbers. But this project works most efficiently with laptops. If your classroom uses only iPads or Chrome/Microsoft tablets, filling in the spreadsheet will be time-consuming for students.
What the project will show: Social Security earns higher benefits when compared with Treasury bill investments in all income quintiles (except the highest), and in the lowest quintile of income earners against a stock investment. The private investment earns much higher returns in stocks in every income quintile except the lowest.
- Thomas R. Eddlem