By Bob Jackson
How financially prepared are you for retirement? And where would you be today without the promise of Social Security?
These are fair questions in light of the August 14 anniversary of Social Security, the national social insurance program for retired, unemployed and disabled Americans. The program remains wildly popular today, 78 years after being signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Social Security remains the foundation of economic security in our country, along with the less predictable economic pillars of employer-sponsored pensions, personal savings and health insurance. In 1959, more than one in three older Americans lived in poverty compared with fewer than one in 10 today. Nine out of 10 Texans age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. Without Social Security income, an additional 31 percent of older Texans would fall into poverty.
At the signing ceremony, FDR remarked that it “will take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness.” The president’s remarks still ring true today; Social Security provides all of us with protections against unforeseen circumstances, such as a suffering a disability or losing a job.
Currently, more than 57 million Americans receive Social Security benefits and about 10,000 retirees enter into the program daily. Yet in today’s political environment, some in our nation’s capital are advocating for cuts to these earned benefits for the millions who rely on them. Politicians are urging for these cuts for today’s retirees even though the program has a large surplus verified by the Social Security Administration. Contrary to what many in Washington are saying, the program can pay out full benefits for another 20 years and 75 percent of promised benefits for the next 75 years.
For the past two years, AARP has been involved in “You’ve Earned a Say,” a national effort to ensure those of us who pay into Social Security have a voice in the debate over its future. The message sent by millions of our members to Washington has been clear: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
We know that Social Security faces a long-term shortfall. However, the Social Security Trust Fund should not be used as a piggy bank to reduce the deficit of other programs. We’ve also advocated against dangerous proposals from Washington such as the “chained CPI,” which would harm millions of Americans by cutting benefits by $127 billion over the next 10 years alone. It would change the way the cost-of-living adjustments are calculated, slashing Social Security benefits for those who depend on them the most: seniors, the disabled and veterans. Chained CPI is the wrong solution because it cuts benefits for today’s beneficiaries.
Another proposal on the table would reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits for people who have incomes above a certain level, otherwise known as “means testing.” This would change the fundamental nature of Social Security as an earned benefit and erode the important relationship between contributions made to Social Security and the benefits received from it.
Lastly, a proposal to increase the full retirement age for Social Security would reduce benefits by around 6 to 8 percent for each year the age increases. Social Security isn’t a line item in a budget. It is an earned benefit that seniors today rely on and with fewer jobs offering pensions, future generations will rely on it even more. The impact Social Security has in your own community is real: The numbers say it all.
More than 3.5 million Texans are Social Security recipients. That’s about one in eight Texans. More than $3 billion flows in to Texas monthly as a result. This money provides a foundation of retirement security, while also benefiting the local economy. Benefit cuts would not only harm Social Security recipients but also your entire community.
The impact that Social Security has on all of us is clear. That’s why we are calling for a separate debate about retirement security so we can keep the promise to seniors and strengthen the program for future generations. We will continue to fight for the 57 million Social Security recipients in Texas and around the country to ensure their basic human needs continue to be met, the vision that FDR set forth 78 years ago.
Bob Jackson is the director of AARP Texas.