GUEST COMMENTARY: Social Security continues as fight between Main Street, elite

Friday, June 7, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:17 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Once again, the annual Social Security Trustees Report, released May 31, is being misinterpreted by Wall Street bankers and their allies, including some elected officials, to spread baseless fears about our retirement, survivor and disability benefits.

They hide behind the unfamiliar word “austerity,” which really means they want to cut our programs and move our money into other places like the stock market or get more tax cuts for the wealthy.

There are also questionable concerns from those who never supported Social Security or feel they would be financially secure without it. So, this isn’t a left vs. right argument. It’s a fight between Main Street and the elite.

Vigilant oversight

Those of us who recognize the importance of Social Security must vigilantly and actively guard against attacks from those who distort the facts and call for cuts aimed at dismantling Social Security brick-by-brick.

GRO-Grass Roots Organizing is working with many other groups in the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, not just defending what we have, but actively working to improve it.

The key take-away from the 2013 Trustees Report is that our Social Security system works well for the American people.

Unlike big banks, which nearly brought the economy to ruin, or unlike traditional pension plans and 401(k)s that are unreliable, Social Security didn’t and doesn’t need a bailout.

Private retirement crisis

The real crisis isn’t in the Social Security system, but in the unpredictable and diminishing private retirement system. In fact, Social Security has a large and growing surplus and, again in 2013, will take in billions more dollars than it pays out.

By law, Social Security cannot borrow money. It doesn’t contribute one cent to the federal deficit and is too important to be involved in that debate.

It is self-financed by three sources of revenue – payroll contributions, interest payments from money borrowed by the U.S. Treasury and taxation of benefits.

We oppose federal policymakers cutting our benefits by a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) formula like the proposed Chained Consumer Price Index (Chained CPI) calculation, or raising the eligibility age, or lessening the amount of recipient’s checks, or turning Social Security into a means-tested “poverty program.” 

Any cuts like these are unnecessary and unacceptable.

Depending on Social Security

Social Security checks are modest, averaging just $15,200 per year. However, they are critical to the two-thirds of senior households relying on it for a majority of their income and to the more than one-third relying on it for 90 percent of their income.

These statistics made me realize that I am in this group of Americans who worked hard their whole life, but will depend on Social Security for 90 percent of my income.

Fortunately, the 2013 report shows that 100 percent of benefits can be paid out for decades. There is no reason to panic.

But, just like our highway system, where new roads must be built and potholes fixed, we should calmly and deliberately address the long-term financial needs of Social Security and make adjustments and repairs. We should not cut back.

Looking for action

What actions should our government take to secure funding for the long-haul?

Higher employment levels would bring in more money to Social Security.

Economist Paul Krugman, writing in The New York Times, says, “It’s time to stop obsessing about how we’ll pay benefits to retirees in 2035 and focus instead on how we’re going to provide jobs to unemployed Americans in the here and now.”

The wealthier and millionaire and billionaire families contribute to Social Security only on wages up to $113,700. As Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,  explained, “Today, someone making $10 million a year contributes the same amount of money as someone making $113,700. That is absurd."

Dump payroll tax cap

To do this, Congress and the president should simply eliminate the payroll tax cap.

Then the richer 6 percent of workers would contribute on all their wages just like everyone else below the income cap does. If we “Scrap the Cap,” we would be able to boost benefits to reflect the real cost of living and maintain the system forever.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, recently introduced the Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 (S567). This bill would reform the benefit formula so that all Social Security beneficiaries would get approximately $70 more each month. Importantly, the bill also changes the COLA so benefits would better keep up with rising costs.

All of these reassuring facts should encourage us to take heart and speak out to defend against cutting any of our earned benefits. Let’s be adamant about not losing our Social Security, or our children’s, or our grandchildren’s, ad infinitum, to all future generations.

Ask Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill to stop all cuts to Socials Security, “Scrap the Cap” and co-sponsor S567.

Mary Hussmann is an organizer with GRO-Grass Roots Organizing in Columbia.

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Michael Williams June 7, 2013 | 8:15 a.m.

"These statistics made me realize that I am in this group of Americans who worked hard their whole life, but will depend on Social Security for 90 percent of my income."

Yes, decisions made decades ago DO impact outcomes today.

There's lots of baby-boomers blaming everyone except themselves.

Mary should never have viewed SS as a retirement program. That was a HUGE mistake.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 7, 2013 | 3:51 p.m.

Many otherwise sane and rationally appearing seniors today lament that their Social Security benefits don't cover their retirement needs.

The program, as originally conceived (1935), was never intended to meet all retirement needs; further, it was subsequently badly "stretched" by adding additional eligible (than retiree) categories, but without - at that time - increasing revenue to pay for the costs of those additions.

It can easily be argued that Social Security is THE "poster child" best representing ALL government sponsored welfare programs (and the Supreme Court has long ago ruled that Social Security IS a welfare program):

>It is certainly one of the longest running of such programs.

>The number of adult Americans both currently paying into Social Security and receiving benefits is quite large.

>Social Security when initiated was actuarily sound, but no longer is so.

Thank God when I was in my 20s I listened to my elders, who suggested I start at that age to plan my retirement and do so by NOT assuming I could count on Social Security. I'm not concerned about starving or otherwise "doing without," nor can some JACKASS frighten me into voting their way because I might lose benefits if I don't.

PS: It helps when planning for retirement if one majors in something pretty much guaranteed to give them fair job security and a good income. If nothing else, one then doesn't need to sit around during retirement and WHINE.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks June 7, 2013 | 4:46 p.m.

"GRO-Grass Roots Organizing is working with many other groups in the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, not just defending what we have, but actively working to improve it."

Simple fix. Let someone else other then the govt take over the holding and processing of it. You do realize the SS Bank is full of IOU's that they Fed Gov't uses as a Pay As You Go account. Each month the checks go out the Feds print up enough money to send out to cover the current recipients.

Imagine what it would be like if you did not just get a small percentage of your money back but the full amount. What if instead of SS they made a "law that stated that each check money would be pulled out and put into your banks savings account or IRA even at .5% interest (the same amount that is pulled out now) and you could not touch it? When you retire and you actually could retire even earlier then 60-63-65-67 you would have access to that money and if you die your family would get the rest of it. Instead you allow the bloated government to hold your money interest free and give it to you when they see fit and doing so fully knowing that they will only be giving you a fraction of the money you paid in.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams June 7, 2013 | 7:43 p.m.


It absolutely amazes (astounds?) me that ANYONE would support a pay-as-you-go program that takes money from active workers and turns it over to retired workers......and at the same time we're worrying about birth rates and overpopulation.

Mary would have been sooooooo much better off if she had been able to invest her SS money over the years in ANYTHING other than SS.

And, she doesn't understand that. She either never bothered to learn, failed to understand, or refuses to believe her lyin'

The difference in how folks view SS is an excellent example of how liberal thinking differs from conservative thinking. In fact, the difference is an excellent predictor of political preference in the absence of any other information.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith June 8, 2013 | 6:08 a.m.


"...liberal thinking..." You imply that Liberals actually think, obviously you have employed an oxymoron. Oh, Michael, how could you?

Where your most recent post and Corey's post differ from mine (above) is I imply that some people (care to guess who?) can take what was intended to be a modest and limited program and turn it into a full blown financial disaster, which they have.

(Report Comment)

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