Let’s work to keep Social Security strong for now and the future

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By Deborah E. Banda

There’s a lot of talk about Social Security these days. Politicians and political pundits talk about solving the nation’s budget crisis by using Social Security funds. They talk about cutting the program, about making big changes.

Instead of putting our children and grandchildren’s retirement in jeopardy, lawmakers should find ways to solve our nation’s budget problems without making damaging cuts to Social Security.

Let’s be clear: Social Security has not contributed one dime to the federal deficit and should not be used to fix it. The program is self-financed by payroll contributions, which are separate from the rest of the federal budget.

Now is the time to strengthen Social Security so future generations will get the benefits they have earned — to talk about the modest changes to the program that will make retirement more secure, not less.

To do so, we must add some new voices to the conversation: The voices of 50+ America.

This month, AARP launches a major campaign to talk about Social Security. We’ll be holding conversations across the country, talking with our members, their families and Americans of all ages. We’ll shine a bright spotlight on their ideas, opinions and suggestions to strengthen Social Security. We’ll also hear their stories.

According to a new AARP survey, Massachusetts residents age 50 and older say that Social Security is extremely or very important to them, but they are apprehensive about the program meeting their needs.

For the most vulnerable, Social Security is a lifeline. For the middle class, it is a critical source of income. Among older Americans, 20 percent of married couples and about 41 percent of singles rely on Social Security for 90 percent — or more — of their income. In addition to providing benefits to retirees, Social Security also protects workers who become disabled and the families of workers who die.

Bottom line: Social Security keeps millions out of poverty — and helps millions more achieve a measure of security in retirement, security earned by contributing to the program throughout their working lives. Today, the average retirement benefit is about $1,200 per month.

As we’ve seen during these tough economic times, the stock market can crash, companies can go out of business and pensions can be terminated. But, Social Security stands strong as a rock solid commitment to American families who count on its benefits in good times and bad.

On average, an individual would have to save an additional $300,000 while working to replace the benefits Social Security provides in retirement — benefits that keep up with inflation so seniors can continue to afford the basics when costs rise. Independent investments, pensions, individual retirement accounts and 401(k) accounts are all important when saving for the future. But for most Americans, Social Security is the guaranteed base of retirement security.

For more than 75 years, Americans have been paying into Social Security and collecting earned benefits when they retire. Without any changes, Social Security will be able to pay 100 percent of benefits for the next 25 years. After that, it will be able to pay about 75 percent of promised benefits. But, that’s not good enough. With gradual and modest changes, we can ensure that future generations also get the benefits they have earned.

Keep in mind: Our children — and already some of our grandchildren — have paid into Social Security for decades. With shrinking pensions, dwindling savings and longer life expectancies, they will depend on Social Security even more.

AARP has been working to preserve Social Security for more than 50 years. We now invite Americans to join in a conversation about how to strengthen the program for current and future generations, and secure the hard-earned benefits all Americans will be counting on for years to come.

Throughout this conversation, AARP will be guided by four critical values. They are:

•You will receive the benefits you have earned during a lifetime of hard work if you have paid into Social Security.

•Your guaranteed Social Security benefit will keep up with inflation for as long as you live.

•Your spouse will be protected and you will receive a benefit if you become disabled and can no longer work.

•Your family will be protected if you die.

•Social Security is the most successful program in our nation’s history. Now is the time to strengthen its guaranteed benefit for current and future generations — to make retirement more secure, not less. Please join us.

For information about activities in Massachusetts — or to share your thoughts — visit www.aarp.org/ma.

Deborah Banda is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. Connect with AARP Massachusetts online at www.aarp.org/ma, www.facebook.com/AARPMA and www.twitter.com/AARPMA.