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AARP AARP States Idaho

The coming fight to protect Social Security

social security cards

This past August we celebrated the 88th birthday of Social Security. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law on Aug. 14, 1935. Last month I had the honor, along with other AARP volunteers from around the country, to meet in Washington D.C. for a bipartisan discussion with members of Congress about the future of Social Security.

Hundreds of thousands of Idahoans count on the Social Security payments we have earned through a lifetime of hard work. More than one in five Idaho residents— 370,385 people— receive Social Security benefits. These payments inject more than $6 billion into the Gem State’s economy every year.

Social Security is a guaranteed source of income. For most older Idahoans, Social Security is their only reliable inflation-protected income source which helps them keep up with rising prices. What’s more, you can’t outlive the benefits.

So it’s no surprise that an overwhelming majority of the public supports the program — and that endorsement crosses party lines. An AARP survey in 2020 found that more than 90 percent of all Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support Social Security.

But Social Security is facing a crucial funding shortfall. If Congress does not act in the next 10 years, Social Security payments could be cut by 20%. That’s an average of more than $4,000 per recipient per year. The last time Congress took major action to shore up Social Security’s nearly depleted reserves was 1983.

For most retirees, Social Security is their largest source of income. The average retired worker benefit in Idaho is now $1,517 a month, reflecting the 8.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment that took effect in January of 2023.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of Social Security. Before its creation in 1935, it’s estimated that roughly half of seniors lived in poverty. Social Security addressed this situation by recognizing that certain changes in our life — retirement, illness, injury or the death of a loved one — can cause our income to plunge through no fault of our own.

From the start, Social Security has always been linked to work. You earn Social Security by contributing to the program over a lifetime of work. Most of the U.S. workforce is now covered by the program, which is largely financed by the payroll taxes that workers pay. This makes Social Security fundamentally different from other programs that are supported by general tax revenues and pay benefits only to certain individuals.

Over time, Social Security expanded its safeguards for what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “the hazards and vicissitudes of life.” Reflecting this vital social insurance mission, categories were added for spouses of workers, survivors, workers with disabilities, and family members.

Another crucial trait of Social Security is that your payments are guaranteed. They don’t rise and fall with the stock market or depend on your employers’ decisions. Social Security payments are calculated based on your highest 35 years of earnings — and your age when you start collecting Social Security.

In the 1970s, Congress added a cost-of-living adjustment — making inflation protection a standard feature of Social Security.

For all these reasons, Social Security stands out as a great success. Of course, our society has changed since Social Security’s birth in the Great Depression. Yet by some measures, the program has never been more important.

Increased longevity keeps adding to the cost of retirement. Prices for basic necessities continue to rise. Many Americans have limited savings and employer-paid pensions are increasingly scarce. More seniors are single and lack family support.

Given these realities, we must keep Social Security strong. Social Security is income we have earned and can depend on. Moreover, we need to ensure that our young people will receive the Social Security that they are earning now through their hard work — just as their parents and grandparents did.

I thank AARP for urging Washington to find a solution to protect and save Social Security, so all Idahoans get the money we have earned.

Social Security has never missed a payment. And AARP will never stop fighting to protect this indispensable program — so it stays strong for you, your family and future generations of Americans.

Sue Nesbella
AARP Idaho Volunteer

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