Social Security is there -- at least for first boomer

WASHINGTON -- The leading edge of the "silver tsunami" that many fear could overwhelm Social Security moved closer Monday as the first baby boomer applied for retirement benefits.

Born one second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is the first of almost 80 million babies born from that year to 1964 who are expected to receive Social Security retirement benefits over the next 20 years -- more than 10,000 a day. According to the American Community Survey of 2006, there are nearly 100,000 baby boomers in Stanislaus County, roughly a fifth of the county's population.

A retired teacher from Camden, N.J., Casey- Kirschling said she feels "lucky to be at the top of the boom."

Casey-Kirschling completed her online application for early retirement benefits before a crowd of photographers and reporters at the National Press Club.

The Social Security trust fund, if left alone, is projected to go broke in 2041. Last week, President Bush's budget director called the growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid a "fiscal train wreck." The three entitlement programs make up nearly half of all federal spending, a share that is expected to grow.

A report issued last month by the Treasury Department said that some combination of benefit cuts and tax increases will need to be considered to permanently fix the Social Security shortfall.

Casey-Kirschling said her generation won't let Social Security fail.

"I think the baby boomers will want to get this fixed," she said. "They're going to want to take care of their children and their grandchildren."