As a Grandfather and Father, we hope that this year’s Grandparents Day, September 9th, can inspire different generations to work together to preserve Social Security.
Social Security is one of America’s greatest success stories. For over 75 years, it has helped retirees stay healthy and out of poverty. The senior poverty rate is now five times lower than it used to be. But Social Security is important to more than just seniors. Social Security helps workers who suffer career-ending injuries and illness, as well as children who have lost a parent. We used to be a nation where people worked until they died, but now Social Security gives workers of all ages hope that they may enjoy a safe and secure retirement.
Despite the decades of success, younger people remain quite skeptical about Social Security. A recent poll by the Associated Press showed that only 20 percent of people 35 and under believe they will receive Social Security. Why this cynicism? We believe it is because many in politics and the media perpetuate the false and corrosive myth that Social Security both is going bankrupt and causes our budget deficit. The more this is repeated, the more it is believed – but it is still false.
Here are the facts: Social Security has not added a penny to our deficit. It is fully paid for by worker and employer payroll taxes, and the Social Security Trust Fund has a $2.7 trillion surplus. The talk of greater life expectancy (and the assumption that you should spend those extra years at work!) is misleading. A lower infant mortality rate has raised overall life expectancy, but it has remained nearly the same once people enter adulthood. In fact, any gains that have been made have been almost exclusively for the highest income and education levels, not for the physically-demanding blue collar and service sector workers who would suffer terribly if the retirement age were increased to 70, as some in politics have suggested. John J., for example, has a very demanding physical job and at age 41 has already had a total hip replacement. Continuing at the present occupation to age 70 is not an option.
The average retiree on Social Security receives $1200 per month. If people think the government spends too much, they should not criticize these modest Social Security benefits retirees paid for throughout their working years, but rather tax breaks for big corporations and two long wars that were put on the nation’s credit card. The Social Security Trust Fund could be significantly strengthened for the long-term by simply requiring the highest earners to pay Social Security payroll taxes at the same rate that the rest of American earners do.
Not only is the future of Social Security clouded in misinformation, but it gives too many people the chance to play the politics of divide and conquer. Politicians and pundits try to pit one generation against the other to advance their own agendas. This is insulting because it assumes people only care about themselves and others their own age. People are better than that, and in 2012, life is more complicated than that. Generations are more intertwined than ever before. What affects one person in a family great affects everyone else.
While it often seems like we live in complicated, fractious times, we still believe that more unites us than divides us. Regardless of when and where we were born, or what we do each day, we all want to live a healthy, secure life and enjoy dignity and peace of mind. While September 9 may be officially known as Grandparents Day, we hope it is a day that brings generations together to improve the lives of people of all ages.