Friday, March 15, 2013

Social Security does more than protect the old

For more than three-quarters of a century, conservatives have demonized Social Security, the entitlement program approved in the middle of the Great Depression. Claims that this support for retirees and those with lifelong disabilities will not be available for future generations have become common wisdom. Now, Social Security and benefits linked to it are at the heart of the deficit debates as those same forces try to build support for drastic cuts or privatizing it entirely. 

The debate ignores the initial rationale for this program. President Franklin Roosevelt found a way to support the elderly, most of whom had to depend entirely on relatives or live in abject poverty or both.

On signing Social Security into our national fabric, FDR said, “We can never insure 100 percent of the population against 100 percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

Fast forward 76 years. The continuing impact of Social Security on poverty among the elderly is often overlooked. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, Social Security support means fewer than 10 percent of those 65 and older live in poverty. Without this social safety net, that number balloons to 46.8 percent. 

Beyond the individual misery that Social Security mitigates, payments actually benefit the entire economy. Payments to Idaho seniors amount to over $200 million per month. That money gets spent, making all the state’s residents the beneficiaries of a larger, stronger economy.

Social Security is funded by a tax on workers’ wages.

As for the meme that Social Security is going broke, nearly every reputable economic source disputes that notion. Estimated shortfalls that are problematic two or three decades from now can be addressed with minor adjustments.

Is there something in the constant anti-Social Security drumbeat that we are missing?  Because of Social Security, parents and grandparents receive a regular income that allows them a life with at least some continued security and dignity. Some lucky or successful enough might not need that help, but imagine that you or your parents were dependent only on investments that might have been bought high and sold low. What would you do then? What would Idaho do?

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