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Issue Position: Social Security

Issue Position

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The enemies of Social Security like to say the baby-boomers beginning to collect Social Security are a terrible drain on the program because there are so darned many of them.

But the arrival of the baby-boomers comes as no surprise. It has been predictable forever that people, like me, who were born in 1946 at the beginning of the baby-boom would be turning 65 this year. But the arrival of the baby-boomers to retirement age comes as no surprise, and it was planned for. Nearly thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan appointed a commission, headed by Alan Greenspan, to make recommendations for adjustments to the program so that when we got to the present time Social Security would be in good shape for this large group entering retirement years.That commission made recommendations, they were enacted, and as a result the payroll tax increased, the retirement ages gradually have increased, and the program was secured.

The only thing unexpected is that a greater proportion of the national income has been going to the richest Americans, with less to average Americans, causing a slight decrease in the proportion of national income subject to the FICA tax.

It's true that if NOTHING were done, the program would not be able to pay out 100% of the promised amount some 25 years from now! But only minor tweaks are required to take care of that problem. There's no emergency.

Meanwhile, of course, we have many very urgent problems: joblessness, fast-rising health-care costs, crumbling infrastructure, and especially a toxic political dynamic.

The Social Security "issue," as it is generally presented by the Republicans, is another manifestation of that toxic dynamic in which there is continuous attack on the government programs that take care of people and make our society healthier and whole, and a continuous effort to transfer wealth to those who already have the most.

To persuade the American people to support cuts in a basically healthy Social Security system, the enemies of Social Security raise the alarm: "We've already reached the point," they cry, "where Social Security is paying out more than it's taking in." They want people to think that the system is unsound.

But there's a good --and temporary--reason why lately more is going out than coming in. It's the same reason that the deficit has swelled, and that families are having trouble making ends meet. The economy is in the greatest downturn since the Great Depression.

If we've got 10 million more people unemployed than in good economic times, that's 10 million people who are not paying the payroll tax into the Social Security Trust Fund who normally would be. Less revenue in-- temporarily.

Meanwhile, with millions of older workers getting laid off in this deep recession, and finding the job market virtually hopeless, a lot of people collecting Social Security earlier than they otherwise would be. That makes for a greater drawdown on the Trust Fund for these immediate years, though in the long run this early retirement will probably save the Social Security system money because benefits are reduced for people who start receiving them earlier.

Unfortunately, the enemies of Social Security have succeeded in advancing the idea of adjusting the way the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) is calculated. This is to reduce the costs of the program.

But even this new way of calculating would be more accurate, making such a change for budgetary reasons seems unworthy of a great nation. The many hundreds of billions of dollars the government would save, the seniors would lose. And I, for one, see no evidence that people who are living predominantly on Social Security are living high on the hog. If we have excesses in our society, that's not where they're to be found. This is not where America should be looking to find savings.

But the idea is suspect for another reason, too. Even if this new way of calculating it would be more accurate for the general population, that is not true for those living on Social Security. For senior citizens, health care costs represent a larger portion of their total expenses than for younger people. And since health care costs have been skyrocketing above the general rise in prices, the present COLA calculations most likely understate rather than overstate the actual rise in the costs of living for older Americans.

I oppose a change in the way the benefits for Social Security recipients are calculated--until or unless there's a new way of calculating it that accurately takes into account the actual "market basket" of goods and services used by older people, and not just for the population generally.

Social Security is under assault. The program and those who depend upon it should be protected.


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