Social Security, established in 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression, has served as a critical safety net for millions of Americans. It was designed to prevent American workers from slipping into poverty after they retired and no longer had a steady stream of income. It is a cornerstone of retirement and provides a stable and basic source of income for its beneficiaries. More than 70 years after its creation, Social Security has enabled senior citizens to live with dignity and has proven to be a most effective and efficient program. Today, it provides benefits to almost 55 million retired and disabled workers and their families, and to the survivors of deceased workers.
Importantly, Social Security is a contract between all working Americans and their government, whereby one must earn the right to participate by working and contributing through payroll taxes. Ensuring financial security is crucial for all Americans, but women, in particular, rely more heavily on Social Security than do men since they generally outlive men. Additional longevity, combined with smaller paychecks and more years out of the workforce with care-giving responsibilities, puts women at greater risk of losing their financial security.
I am strongly opposed to privatization of Social Security and other efforts that would undercut its fundamental purpose. Misguided measures to dismantle the program, including a budget that was considered earlier in this Congress, would eviscerate Social Security by privatizing it for workers under age 55, and I voted against this drastic measure. Privatization simply diverts the payroll tax out of Social Security into private accounts, thereby creating additional strain, weakening the program, and exposing individual investments to unnecessary risk. Instead, we should focus on modest adjustments to strengthen the program -- not weaken it. While there is no impending solvency crisis for Social Security, we must begin to address some of the future challenges we will face with common-sense solutions to protect and preserve it for future generations.
In addition to Social Security benefits, Medicare serves approximately one in seven Americans, primarily providing health benefits for people age 65 and older. Having guaranteed health insurance coverage is vital to our physical and economic well being, especially as we age. Medicare provides essential health coverage such as hospital stays, skilled nursing services, home health and hospice care, preventive services, doctor visits, and drug benefits. It has undergone considerable changes over the years, and it is estimated that almost 80 million people will be eligible for Medicare by the time the last of the baby boom generation reaches age 65.
Medicare certainly faces increasing pressures in the coming years, but like Social Security, it should not be privatized and put into a voucher system whereby senior citizens would pay substantially more for their health benefits. I am committed to finding practical and targeted approaches that will help address increasing costs, establish fairness and ensure continued access to health care services. Removing a safety net from underneath our senior citizens and those most vulnerable in our society certainly does not reflect our values as Americans. They deserve better.