By Sean Voskuhl, AARP State Director
How to strengthen and preserve Social Security for future generations is one of the most important decisions facing federal policymakers. This campaign season, questions about Social Security’s fate belong on the forefront.
Born in the depths of the Great Depression, Social Security is showing signs of financial distress. Sooner or later, our national leaders will need to step in to secure its long-term future. And whether you’re a potential beneficiary of Social Security or simply among those paying into the system, we all have a stake in the debate over the federal insurance program.
In Oklahoma, 2,015,083 of us are currently paying into Social Security. And also in Oklahoma, 550,072, or 91 percent of those 65 and older, are already receiving Social Security. Oklahomans earn their benefits through a lifetime of hard work. As a result, it insures families against the loss of income caused by retirement, disability, or death.
There’s no doubt that Social Security, which celebrates its 83rd anniversary this month, continues to be a pillar of financial security for many. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on Aug. 14, 1935 to protect ordinary Americans “against the loss of a job and poverty-ridden old age” – concerns that still ring familiar to many Americans.
Social Security’s strength over eight decades is a credit to its financing system and the commitment of past congresses and presidents to work cooperatively to secure its financial future. Payments to current and soon-to-retiree beneficiaries are safely on schedule. Still, the prospects are bleaker for the long-term unless national leaders take needed action. Currently, Social Security can pay full benefits for just over 15 years. But if nothing is done to make the program financially sound for the long term, benefits will be cut by about 25 percent in 2034, according to the trustees who oversee Social Security.
Many experts also believe Social Security should be updated to meet changing realities. Life expectancy is increasing, people are having fewer children, and there are more women in the workforce than when the program was created. Policymakers also need to be cognizant that current benefit levels are modest and that people rely heavily on Social Security benefits – even though the retirement landscape has changed, with fewer people having guaranteed pensions.
Surely, keeping Social Security strong and solvent for current and future generations is too important to be lost in the fog of campaign season.
Americans can take with pride the fact that the government has always honored its commitment to Social Security recipients. Still, Social Security’s long-term financial picture is one that is now vital for our leaders to address. Doing nothing is not an option. It’s imperative that candidates for office commit, and remain steadfast to their promises, to preserve and strengthen Social Security for both today’s retirees and future generations.