The elderly are not depleting the Social Security system by drawing out funds - and efforts to strengthen the long-term health of the system by reducing payment amounts are "misguided" because that will not decide the program's survival.

That decision resides with the so-called "baby boomers," the very generation that worries there won't be enough money when boomers begin to retire and draw Social Security around 2010, according to Marilyn Moon.Moon, director of the Public Policy Institute for the American Association of Retired Persons in Washington, D.C., was in Salt Lake Monday to discuss "Intergenerational Warfare" at the University of Utah. She has been named the 1989 Mary G. Lowe Visiting Scholar.

"At present, it is projected that payments will be lower in relationship to what an individual puts in," she said. "But it's not the amount people are pulling out; it's the number of children the baby boomers haven't had."

Traditionally, Moon said, Social Security has been based on a pyramid, with a large number of children on the bottom supporting the smaller number of elderly at the top. But boomers have had fewer children and the shape is becoming rectangular.

Two things will determine the social program's security: "Whether we invest wisely in technology and education so we have a healthy, thriving society with economic growth. And we must make sure we pay for it ourselves, not borrow overseas. That is not a decision being made by retirees, but by our generation - yours and mine."

The issue of intergenerational warfare - whether the elderly are being supported at the expense of other generations - is an intellectual question, said Moon. And the elderly have made "pretty good upward progress in the last few decades," but they are still not as well off as the 24-35 age group, which "tends to be the least affluent of the non-elderly population." Of those 65 and older, 12.2 percent live in poverty. When those who live very near poverty (up to 125 percent of the federal guideline) are added, the figure rises to 20.3 percent.

Programs for the elderly do make up a huge portion of the domestic federal budget, she said, and Medicare is the fastest-growing part of that budget, because of technology and rising health-care costs.

"That (the large budget) makes programs for the elderly vulnerable," she said, "because if you want to cut money out of the budget without hurting defense funds, you have to go after programs for older Americans, not to hurt elderly, but because the money is there."

The federal government spends about $300 billion on programs for the aged, compared with about $12 billion for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (welfare).