Unless Congress acts, the trust funds that support Social Security are on pace to run out of money in 2033, triggering an automatic 25 percent cut in benefits that millions of older Americans rely on for most of their income.
That may seem far off. But the sooner Congress acts, the more time to phase in changes slowly.
Social Security could be preserved for generations with modest but politically difficult changes to benefits or taxes, or some of both.
Obama hasn't laid out a detailed plan for addressing Social Security. Romney proposes a gradual increase in the retirement age and, for future beneficiaries, slower growth in benefits for the wealthy.
But nothing will happen without White House leadership.
For millions of retired and disabled workers, Social Security is almost all they have to live on. Monthly retirement benefits are $1,237; average disability benefits, $1,111.