By Deborah E. Banda
Social Security is an American success story.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on Aug. 14, 1935, he said, “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred 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.”
For 75 years, Social Security has provided a guaranteed, inflation-protected retirement benefit Americans can count on. It also provides much needed assistance to spouses and children of deceased workers. Today, nearly 53 million Americans receive Social Security benefits — and, for nearly half of older Americans, Social Security is the principle source of family income.
Over the decades, Social Security has evolved to meet changing needs of the day. Cost of living adjustments (COLA) have been added so benefits can keep up with inflation; benefits have been extended to disabled workers and adult children; early retirement benefits have been provided as well.
This month, as we celebrate Social Security’s 75th anniversary, the nation struggles with a massive federal deficit. And, predictably, some politicians have started talking about reducing it by cutting the Social Security benefits we’ve earned. To this, AARP says: Social Security hasn’t contributed one dime to our nation’s deficit, so benefits shouldn’t be cut to fix it.
That said, the deficit does threaten our economy and the financial security of future generations; it must be addressed.
But, instead of targeting Social Security for cuts, Congress should cut waste, close tax loopholes and crack down on pork-barrel spending. Social Security is too important to too many Americans. It must continue to evolve — to be strengthened, not weakened.
The words of President Roosevelt, from his radio address marking the third anniversary of the Social Security Act, still ring true today, “In our efforts to provide security for all of the American people, let us not allow ourselves to be misled by those who advocate short cuts to Utopia or fantastic financial schemes. We have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go.”
Let’s start by getting some facts straight:
1. Americans earn and pay for Social Security’s guaranteed retirement benefits by making contributions out of each and every paycheck throughout their working lives. The average retirement benefit is $1,168 per month and is adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.
2. Social Security’s guaranteed benefits are a rock solid commitment to American families. Companies can go out of business. Pensions can be terminated. The stock market can take a nose dive. Social Security benefits are there in good times and bad.
3. An average worker’s Social Security retirement benefit will only replace about $4 out of every $10 they earned while working. Social Security was never designed to be a worker’s sole source of income in retirement. Ideally, Social Security is a foundation that is strengthened when accompanied by a pension and private savings. While Social Security is the largest source of income for most retirees, for too many Americans, Social Security is all they have.
4. Social Security has been running a surplus and has not contributed one dime to our nation’s current deficit. In fact, Social Security surpluses have been masking the true size of the federal deficit for decades. Even in the midst of the current economic crisis, the $2.5 trillion Social Security Trust Fund continues to grow and is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2023.
5. Right now, Social Security can pay full benefits for the next 25 years, and three-quarters of promised benefits after that. But, that’s not good enough. A recent report by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging confirms: We can make modest changes to Social Security in the near term to ensure that future generations receive adequate benefits, and strengthen Social Security’s financing for the long term.
AARP believes, and is working hard to ensure:
If you pay into Social Security, you will receive the benefits you’ve earned over a lifetime of hard work.
Your Social Security benefit will keep up with inflation for as long as you live.
If you become disabled and can no longer work, you will receive a benefit. And, if you die, your family will be protected.
You continue to have access to a decent early retirement benefit if you need it.
Now is the time to celebrate Social Security’s success; make it stronger for our children and grandchildren; and protect it from becoming a scapegoat for the escalating federal deficit.
Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which serves more than 800,000 members age 50 and over in the Bay State. Connect with AARP MA online at www.aarp.org/ma, www.facebook.com/aarpma and www.twitter.com/aarpma.