Defending Social Security

Thalia Syracopoulos

Many of us, young and old, have been alarmed by the damage inflicted on our individual and national well-being by the floundering economy and the ongoing Gulf oil spill.  Meanwhile, another insidious threat to all of us who live and work in this country has been largely ignored.

What has been given great attention is the opinion of those who call themselves “fiscal conservatives”.  They insist that our federal budget deficit is our nation’s biggest threat and that our “unsustainable” Social Security system is responsible for the deficit and must be cut back.

In response to these so-called fiscal conservatives, President Obama has created the Bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  The Committee’s job is to recommend ways to decrease our federal deficit, which has indeed reached astronomical levels.  However, rather than concentrating on the devastating degree to which such things as the Iraq and Afghan wars, billions in tax cuts for the wealthy and the ongoing economic collapse triggered by the greed of Wall Street have increased our deficit, the Commission appears intent on attacking the most important and successful part of our National personal safety net – Social Security.

Under serious consideration are proposals to weaken the formula that determines initial benefits; to undercut cost-of-living protection; and to raise the age of full retirement from 67 to as much as 70.  As the “fiscal conservatives” speak, they reassure the old folks who are already on Social Security that none of these changes would affect those at or near retirement age.  They do not speak of the reality of what Social Security is and what it means to every one of us regardless of our age.  They never mention that Social Security has nothing to do with the federal deficit.  They never recognize how Social Security has done, particularly for women and children, during its 75 years of existence.

They frighten us all about the impact of the retirement of the “Boomer” generation while never telling us that it is not true.  The Boomer’s retirements were anticipated and Congress made minor changes to the payroll tax cap and retirement age in 1983 to compensate for them.

As a result, the managers of the Social Security Trust Fund declare the program will pay benefits in full until 2037.  The conservative Congressional Budget Office estimates that the fund will pay full benefits until 2043, when nearly all the Boomers will be dead.

What these “fiscal conservatives” do not speak of is that Social Security is an insurance policy.  Every working person pays into it.  As a result, every working person has the right to receive the benefits for which they paid.  Over the years, the working people of this country have grown the Social Security Trust Fund to its present value of $2.6 TRILLION.

It is true that the Federal Government has borrowed from the SS Trust Fund.  However, unless our country experiences a complete social, political and economic collapse the SS Trust fund is not endangered.  And, indeed, if our country did suffer such a collapse, the SS Trust Fund would be the least of our worries.

Presently 51 million people in this country receive monthly Social Security checks.  Of these, only 33 million are retired workers.  The others are:

  • 3   million spouses or children of retired workers
  • 4.2 million surviving spouses of deceased workers
  • 1.9 million children of deceased workers
  • 7.4 million disabled workers
  • 1.8 million children or spouses of a disabled worker

There are 3.1 million children under age 18 who receive Social Security and 900,000 adults who have been disabled since childhood who get benefits as dependents of a retired, disabled or deceased parent.

People who work paid for these benefits.  They have the right to collect them just as any of us has the right to collect on any life/disability policy for which we paid.  We did our part to prevent ourselves from suffering sudden, devastating poverty as a result of serious injury or death.  It is wrong for Congress to cut the deficit by cutting our benefits or by raising the age at which we are eligible to collect them.

But there is good news.  More than 60 organizations across the nation have formed a coalition called “Social Security Works”.  Its purpose is to prevent any cuts to Social Security benefits or any increase in the retirement age.

More than 18 local organizations, including Seattle NOW are already members of “Social Security Works/Washington”.  We have already gotten support from both of our Senators and several of our Congressional Representatives who have taken a public stand against any negative changes to Social Security.  We continue to work on this and have every reason to hope that our efforts will be successful in Washington and across the country.