If we are to glean anything from the annual report of the trustees of Social Security and Medicare, it is an unstated cautionary tale.

Beware of qualified good news.

Which is to say, beware of complacency.

The economy has been good during the past year. That may come as a shock to many who have watched the price of eggs, among other things, shoot higher than the Wasatch Range. But just about every indicator other than that has been good. Even the Conference Board, a business research group, decided in February to stop warning about an imminent recession. The nation’s unemployment rate in April was 3.9%. Tax receipts are up.

And so, the Social Security trustees have moved the entitlement program’s day of reckoning back from 2034 to 2035.

Not only that, they estimate that if the trust fund runs dry that year, the program would be able to fund about 83% of today’s benefits. A couple of years ago, that estimate was just 76%.

As for Medicare, a stronger economy and unexpected drop in expenses has pushed its day of reckoning five years ahead, to 2036.

So, is it time to celebrate?

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Let’s put it in a different perspective. If your doctor told you that because of a good year, you may live 11 more years instead of 10, but that you could extend that time dramatically through diet and exercise, what would you do?

Actually, I regretted that paragraph as soon as it left my fingers. My guess is that many of us would view 11 years as far enough in the future to erase all worries, and we might even get a hamburger and fries on the way home from the doctor’s office to celebrate.

Human nature can be a stubborn thing. And that’s a concern for Washington, because those two big entitlement programs for retirees aren’t the only fiscal problems facing this country.

As part of the Deseret News editorial board, I have met and interviewed many candidates for Congress from Utah this year. Nearly everyone has mentioned the national debt of roughly $34.5 trillion. Nearly everyone has lamented the nation being on a collision course with fiscal disaster. Very few have had specific remedies for the problem.

One member of Congress years ago told me the nation often needs a “Pearl Harbor moment” in order to get serious about its problems. When a problem reaches an existential stage, America’s leaders tend to step up and respond.

The problem is, a decade from now, the nation’s fiscal problems could be much harder to solve.

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About six months ago, I reported on a study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model. It concluded that the nation would remain solvent for as long as its creditors remained confident in its ability to pay its debts. That, it said, was likely to go south when the national debt equals about 200% of the nation’s economic output. And we’ve got about 20 years, probably less, until then.

That timeline, as I said then, assumes the United States will continue its current policies and the economy will continue along its current favorable path. Those are big assumptions.

But another obstacle is beginning to loom large enough for the Social Security trustees to take note. Americans are no longer having babies as they once were.

The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program relies on current workers to pay the benefits for retirees. But the costs of the program have risen faster than the Social Security payroll tax since 2008 “and is projected to continue to do so through about 2040.”

“In this period, the retirement of the baby-boom generation is increasing the number of beneficiaries much faster than the increase in the number of covered workers, as subsequent lower-birth-rate generations replace the baby-boom generation at working ages,” the report said.

The trustees lowered their national birth rate projections slightly.

Of course, the trustees are making guesses based on shaky assumptions and statistical trends.

Potential solutions, however, are not as nebulous. Here are some possible fixes: The retirement age could be raised for today’s younger generation, Social Security benefits could be reduced for wealthier Americans or minimal tax hikes could rebuild reserves over time. Currently, any income above $168,600 is not subject to the Social Security tax. This could be raised, or the cap could be eliminated.

A combination of these would be relatively harmless if applied today to younger workers only.

Unfortunately, neither party views this as a Pearl Harbor moment yet. President Biden said the strength of the economy is “proof positive that we’re delivering on our commitment to retirees.”

If that’s how we view a one-year reprieve, it might be better to have no good news at all.