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Social Security: Why It’s Not Broke and How We Can Expand It

By Robby Stern

A large crowd listened and participated in the forum: “Social Security: Why It’s Not Broke and How We Can Expand It” held on February 23. Nancy Altman, Co-director of Social Security Works, a national advocacy coalition, pointed out that an important difference between the Great Depression and the modern-day Great Recession was that Social Security made it possible for seniors to continue to receive modest incomes. Whereas, during the Great Depression, many parents were forced to move in with their children and grandchildren, during the Great Recession, parents were able to maintain a degree of financial independence and even offer financial assistance to their kids and grandkids. Ms. Altman explained that Social Security is not a problem; it is a solution to some of the major problems facing our country:

1. Economic insecurity of seniors — Social Security is not making anyone rich, but it is allowing seniors, survivors and disabled people to barely hold their own. Unlike former Senator Simpson’s characterization, the vast majority of seniors are not “greedy geezers”. They are, in fact, one incident away from financial crisis whether it is the need for long term care, a major housing expense, or other life circumstances that might arise. By expanding Social Security benefits we can help address this problem.

2. The financial crunch faced by tomorrow’s seniors — With the decline in union density and the commensurate elimination of defined benefit pensions, Social Security is going to be the major source of income for a vast majority of tomorrow’s seniors. The average 401K retirement account is $90,000. That will not be nearly enough to supplement retirement income for the average life expectancy. Expanding Social Security benefits is the solution to this impending crisis.

3. Tremendous squeeze on middle class families — The middle class incomes, often made possible by union family wage jobs, are being squeezed out by the upward redistribution of wealth. At the same time, middle class families are facing enormous demands on their incomes from costs of health care, higher education, housing, etc. Expanding Social Security creates a buffer against further economic demands brought on by the need to assist aging parents.

4. Income inequality — By expanding Social Security benefits and eliminating the income cap and making other economic reforms on the revenue side of Social Security, we can force the upper 5-6% of the income ladder — and particularly the upper 1% — to transfer some of their ridiculous wealth to the social good that would arise from creating more income security for the vast majority of the population.

Ms. Altman asserted that what stands in the way of these solutions are the millionaires and billionaires who are fighting these needed improvements by funding politicians and think tanks, who instead are beating the drum to cut Social Security. It is up to us to build a movement to make the needed changes happen.

Prof. Eric Kingson discussed the effort by the new Republican majority to create a wedge between the recipients of Social Security retirement benefits and the people receiving Social Security disability. He warned that we should expect a multitude of attacks on the “lazy and fraudulent” recipients of Social Security disability in an effort to incite the recipients of retirement benefits to turn against those receiving disability.

In the past, it has been a common practice to move dollars back and forth between the Social Security disability fund and the Social Security retirement fund. It was non-controversial. In fact the disability fund bailed out the retirement fund in the early 1980s. Had the dollars not been moved from the disability fund to the retirement fund, Social Security payments to retirees would have been dramatically reduced. Had that transfer in the 1980s not occurred, the disability fund would be financially in great shape. As it is, a transfer of funds from the retirement fund to the disability fund is required by the end of 2016 for the disability fund to continue to pay full benefits.

On the first day of the 2015 Congressional session, the House Republicans set up this wedge strategy fight by passing a rule that any transfer of dollars from the retirement fund to the disability fund will require cuts or new revenue to the retirement fund. While creating new revenue is a great idea, we all know that the Republican controlled Congress will not force their wealthy funders to pay more for the Social Security program. They will either attack the disability program or go after their big prize, Social Security retirement benefits.

We are ready for the fight and will use the August 8th 50th anniversary of Medicare and 80th anniversary of Social Security to high light the need to enrich both of these programs that are so essential to the welfare of the vast majority of the American people. Scrap the Cap and create a Medicare Part E!

Progressive Alternatives In the Crosshairs in Seattle

The Seattle Democratic Party establishment does not like to be threatened from the left. The election of Kshama Sawant caught them by surprise, and we can now anticipate a major effort on the part of the Democratic establishment and the downtown business community to try and take her out. PSARA does not endorse candidates (although I do!). We do support strong advocacy for social and economic justice and often the best ideas as well as the grass roots organizing come from the left/progressive side of the political spectrum. The ugly attacks have already begun. Keep your eyes on this race. A slap down is what the establishment has in mind and they will put big money into this battle.

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