Social Security

  • January 22, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Hardly surprising – though rather entertaining – is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reaction to President Obama’s second Inaugural Address. McConnell bemoaned the speech as marking a return to “The Era of Liberalism.” This is the same fellow who went before a right-wing outfit early in Obama’s first term to proclaim his top priority was to ensure there would be no second Obama term.

    He’s also the leader of a gang of obstructionists in the Senate – ensuring that the president’s picks for the federal bench had to wait lengthy periods before getting a confirmation vote, if they even got that. All too often McConnell succeeded in scuttling nominations, helping to lead to a historic vacancy rate on the federal bench.

    The Huffington Post reported McConnell saying today, “One thing is clear from the president’s speech: The era of liberalism is back. His unabashedly far-left-of-center inaugural speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party in ages of past.”

    I’m not close to McConnell’s age; I can only read about the periods of a progressive Democratic Party. Sorry Clinton fans, but President Bill Clinton was no liberal. From trashing the nation’s social safety net to harassing the LGBT community with a string of oppressive policies, including the ignoble Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Clinton swiftly dragged the Democratic Party rightward.

    But when Obama declared that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” and when he lauded Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, saying that those New Deal era programs have not produced a “nation of takers,” it was bound to send right wingers and promoters of austerity measures over the edge. (See here for video of the Inauguration, including the president’s address.)

    And of course the president didn’t stop there. Unlike his predecessors, he highlighted gays and lesbians and their struggle for equality, linking it to other great civil rights movements.

    The president took several shots at the wobbly and cold-hearted economic policies peddled by conservatives and sounded a ringing endorsement of a nation’s quest for equality. It was an incredibly moving address, made more enjoyable by the overwrought reactions from the apologists and defenders of the nation’s most powerful.

  • August 17, 2010
    Guest Post

    By John Rother, executive vice president for policy and strategy at AARP.
    On Saturday, we marked the diamond anniversary of a national treasure - Social Security, signed into law on August 14, 1935. With his signature, President Roosevelt began what has become the bedrock of economic security for countless working Americans and their families. In addition to providing retirement benefits for those age 62 and older, Social Security provides benefits that help all generations. Families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, children who lose a working parent, workers who become disabled, widows and widowers - all count on Social Security benefits. In all, 53 million Americans today count on Social Security as a critical source of income.

    It's a time to celebrate Social Security's remarkable past success, and to commit to ensuring our nation's most important program will be strong in the future. It's also a time to counter false assumptions that give rise to so-called "solutions" that instead of strengthening the program, will undermine the retirement security of our children and grandchildren.

    The fact is, Social Security will be as important for future generations as it is for current retirees. In the recession millions of Americans lost their jobs and their pensions and saw their private savings accounts plummet with the fall of the stock market, but Social Security benefits were there, as they have been for 75 years, in good times and bad.

    For the majority of retirees, Social Security can be the difference between aging with independence and aging in financial desperation. To be specific, Social Security provides more than half the income for 72 percent of single individuals age 65+ who receive Social Security benefits and for 52 percent of couples who receive benefits.

    And, yet, as vital as these benefits are, they are modest by any standard. Social Security was never designed to be a worker's sole source of retirement income. Today's average workers' benefits will replace only about $4 of every $10 earned while working. The average retirement benefit in December 2009 was $1,168 per month - about $14,000 a year. For retired women, even less - only $983 a month -- or less than $12,000 a year.

  • August 16, 2010

    The Social Security Act turned 75 on Saturday, and President Obama seized the occasion to remind the public that the United States cannot afford to privatize social security.

    "I'll fight with everything I've got to stop those who would gamble your Social Security on Wall Street," President Obama said during his weekly address. "Because you shouldn't be worried that a sudden downturn in the stock market will put all you've worked so hard for - all you've earned - at risk. You should have the peace of mind of knowing that after meeting your responsibilities and paying into the system all your lives, you'll get the benefits you deserve."

    Adds the Los Angeles Times in an editorial:

    Conservatives have tried for several years to use the trust fund's long-term troubles as a rationale for privatizing Social Security. But allowing workers to take control (and responsibility) for all or part of their accounts would only exacerbate the problem. That's because, despite $2.5 trillion in reserves, the trust fund isn't large enough to finance the benefits promised to workers already in the system. Shifting payroll taxes from the trust fund to private accounts would make the shortfall worse.

    The editorial calls instead for a combination of smaller steps, including raising the retirement age, raising payroll taxes, cutting benefits and changing cost-benefit adjustments.

    Editorials in both The Washington Post and The New York Times also call for balanced reform, with a combination of benefit cuts and tax increases, but the Post calls the newest numbers a "warning sign," while The Times editorial board says "Social Security is holding up even in the face of a weak economy," due in part to savings Medicare will experience thanks to health care reform.

    Paul Krugman writes that claims of a Social Security crisis rely on "bad-faith accounting."

    "I'm not just talking about the fact that it's a lot easier to imagine working until you're 70 if you have a comfortable office job than if you're engaged in manual labor," Krugman writes. "America is becoming an increasingly unequal society - and the growing disparities extend to matters of life and death. Life expectancy at age 65 has risen a lot at the top of the income distribution, but much less for lower-income workers. And remember, the retirement age is already scheduled to rise under current law."

    Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic that Krugman's article is misleading, pointing out that modest cuts today will benefit the bottom 50 percent of Social Security recipients more than steep cuts in the future.

    The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel suggests: "on this 75th anniversary, rather than fighting these Social Security-busters, we should celebrate what has been one of the nation's best anti-poverty programs - a lifeline for millions of Americans - and a reminder of what effective government can do."

    She adds:

    This anniversary is also a reminder of how major social reforms in this country have come about - in fits and starts. As former Clinton adviser Paul Begala observed in a Washington Post op-ed, "No self-respecting liberal today would support Franklin Roosevelt's original Social Security Act... If that version of Social Security were introduced today, progressives like me would call it cramped, parsimonious, mean-spirited and even racist. Perhaps it was all those things. But it was also a start. And for 74 years we have built on that start."