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

By Tom Barry

Several years ago I was talking with one of my students, Siri, from Norway. She was taking her first US Government class at the time and was surprised to learn that few of her classmates thought Social Security would be around when they retired and, even more surprising, few seemed to care.

Siri had pointed out in an earlier conversation that we Americans spend a lot of our resources on things that might happen, but which we hope we don’t need. We buy health insurance and hope we don’t get sick. We buy car insurance and hope to avoid an accident. We get life insurance policies and pray our families won’t be cashing them out prematurely. “So why aren’t you concerned about what happens to you when you retire, something you know will happen and you know you’ll need?” she asked. It was a good question, and one for which I didn’t have a great answer.

So this week I was excited to attend a PSARA sponsored panel called “Social Security: Why It’s Not Broke & How We Can Expand It,” and I came away with a much better answer to Siri’s question than whatever I bumbled out a few years ago. The answer is simply that many of us – myself included – simply don’t understand Social Security, so we assume it’s broken. But it’s not.

Among the long list of things I was ignorant about before I attended the session was the realization that Social Security isn’t just about retirement; it’s a safety net for all of society. It’s not an example of bureaucratic waste; it’s an example of bureaucratic efficiency. And it’s not bankrupt, but not everyone is paying their fair share either.

As one of the panelists pointed out in response to a question about defending Social Security benefits, “the problem with defensive politics is that you only need to lose once to lose it all.” If we want Social Security to be around for our generation, we will need to be just as aggressive about its expansion as those who would like to see it dismantled.

Tom Barry is a PSARA member.

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