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I recently saw Bernie Sander's quote:

Right now, Trump pays the same amount of money into Social Security as someone who makes $118,500 a year. Time for a change.

Now this seems to be true. There is a cap on how much you pay into social security, and it seems to be $118,500. However, being a politician it looks to me like Bernie is intentionally ignoring the other side. As best as I can understand, your payout is based on your AIME, which is also capped at that same $118,500, so Trump's payout should also be equivalently small, exactly proportional to this cap.

Now trying my best to sidestep the politics of whether the rich should pay more, is it accurate to say that Trump will be paid by social security as though his actual income was $118,500, rather than his full income?

As best as I can tell, the answer is yes, but I can't find any documents which state this clearly enough. Wikipedia's AIME page seems to say it is capped in this way, but the one sentence talking about it has atrocious readability.

  • There is no reason to believe that Trump is paying the same amount into Social Security as someone who "makes" $118,500 per year. Social Security tax is imposed on compensation (that is, earned income as in wages, salaries, self-employment income etc) up to a maximum of $118,500 per year. It is entirely possible that the "billions" that Mr Trump boasts that he makes are all from investment income etc, and that the portion of his income that he gets as compensation is very small. – Dilip Sarwate Jan 10 '16 at 18:22
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As best as I can understand, your payout is based on your AIME, which is also capped at that same $118,500, so Trump's payout should also be equivalently small, exactly proportional to this cap

Not sure what you want from Bernie here, but that is correct.

Is it accurate to say that Trump will be paid by social security as though his actual income was $118,500, rather than his full income?

Assuming Trump does pay that much (depends on how much of his income is actually subject to the FICA/SE tax), yes, it is accurate.

However I believe what confuses you is the point Bernie Sanders made about people getting the same benefit while being rich. Bernie's point was that Trump and the likes don't need the social security income, while they're still getting it.

Social Security is designed (at least theoretically) to be the safety net for people of age who cannot provide for themselves, thus it is not supposed to be "you get what you paid" system. This is a political discussion though. Social Security system, by definition, is based on a major principle of any socialist society: we as a group should support those who cannot support themselves. Thus, Bernie's point is that we shouldn't support Trump (and the likes) at all since they don't need that money. But they should still pay the tax to allow supporting those who do need, but cannot pay in.

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