Should Social Security be transformed into “welfare?” AMAC says “No.”
“Social Security does not offer anyone… an easy life—nor was it ever intended to do so.” You might be surprised who uttered this phrase. It was Franklin Roosevelt, the father of the program, in a 1938 radio address, three years after signing The Social Security Act.
Social Security was an anti-poverty program from inception. In the 1930s, the single greatest cause of poverty was old age. To stop work meant instant hardship, so people worked until death. Life expectancy was early 60s.
Still it was designed only to give seniors a bare modicum of respect and dignity. The benefit was never intended for one to live on by itself. Savings from a lifetime of work would make up the difference.
Monthly benefits replace just 40 percent of pre-retirement income, an impossible sum to fund what many expect from retirement, be it travel, hobbies, leisure time, or volunteering. Experts continue imploring people to save more, yet far too many dismiss that with, “I’ll have Social Security.” Square that with comments from those who dismissed saving but now say, “We can’t live on Social Security. We need a raise.”
Financial advisers agree on one thing—Americans must learn to defer more gratification today for the promise of a better tomorrow. A retirement of penury could await those who fail to heed the advice. But changing the program from an earned benefit into welfare, as most Democrat presidential candidates advocate, is not the answer.
Yet that’s exactly what Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren seek to do with proposals to hike benefits across the board or create a new minimum benefit higher than the poverty level. It all sounds so nice. Who on Social Security wouldn’t like an extra $200 a month? Just send the bill to current workers by jacking up their payroll taxes. After all, non-working retirees do not pay that tax.
The Social Security 2100 Act, with 208 co-sponsors (all Democrats), appears poised to pass the U.S. House. The bill hikes the payroll tax 19% (when fully phased in) and introduces a poverty index to calculate benefits rather than exclusively using payroll tax contributions workers have made throughout their lives. It increases taxes on higher income earners without corresponding benefit increases.
Regrettably, Social Security 2100 does nothing to address the primary reasons Social Security is facing insolvency in just over a decade— increasing longevity and a declining ratio of workers to beneficiaries. People now live twenty years longer than when Social Security began, yet the bill ignores increasing the retirement age. Instead it takes a universally popular earned benefit and transforms it into a welfare program.
Social Security has worked because nearly everyone pays into it. You become eligible for retirement benefits after 10 years of payroll tax contributions. Benefits are calculated based on your highest 35 years of income. Thus the longer you work and/or the more money you make, the higher your benefit. Individuals control their own destiny.
AMAC has a plan to preserve and modernize Social Security without raising taxes or making it resemble “welfare.” To avoid 20-23% across the board benefit cuts all face in 2035, we propose a gradual increase in the retirement age (early retirement remains age 62). We change the level of payments slightly for future high-income retirees and propose a tiered but guaranteed approach to calculating cost-of-living adjustments (no more zero percent raises). AMAC’s plan also provides a means for all earners to have more income available at retirement with our voluntary companion plan, Social Security PLUS. View the plan at www.amac.us/social-security
Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), a senior benefits organization with over 2 million members. He is a frequent contributor here and of articles to draw attention to Social Security’s ailing financial health.