The way some legislators talk, you get the idea that Social Security and Medicare are little more than just numbers in a budget. Yet for families all over America, Social Security and Medicare have a deeper meaning: They are the very foundation of retirement security. Social Security and Medicare enable millions of older Americans to survive financially each month, after years of working hard and paying taxes to earn these protections.
As lawmakers consider the U.S. budget, they should keep in mind that half of America’s seniors get by on less than $20,000 a year, and typical seniors already spend nearly 20% of their incomes on health care. These facts argue against treating Social Security and Medicare as bargaining chips in a year-end political deal. Instead, we should be discussing ways to preserve their protections for all generations.
Just look at the role Social Security and Medicare play in the lives of Wisconsinites.
- In 2011, Social Security accounted for 65% of the typical older Wisconsinite’s income, and the average annual benefit was only $14,400.
- Low-and middle-class seniors in Wisconsin are even more reliant on Social Security’s earned benefit, receiving 80% of their individual income from Social Security.
- About 6%, or 48,041, older Wisconsinites are in poverty. Without Social Security income, an additional 40% of older Wisconsinites, or 312,233 people, would fall into poverty.
- Medicare enables over 50 million older Americans and people with disabilities to receive affordable health care. In Wisconsin, that’s 772,864 people. Still, seniors have to pay $4,600 on average out of their own pockets for care each year.
Since early 2012, AARP has engaged our members in conversations about the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare, and how to keep these programs effective for the long haul. This effort, which we call You’ve Earned Say, reached nearly 100,000 Wisconsinites in all parts of the state, and involved millions of Americans who made their feelings clear. In a recent AARP poll, 91% of Americans age 50 and over said Social Security was critical to the economic security of seniors, and an even higher 95% described Medicare as critical to health security for seniors.
We are living in a time when retirement security has unraveled for many, due to a combination of trends. Private pensions are shrinking. Savings rates remain low. Home values have fallen. The cost of living continues to rise. These realities make it unwise to cut back Social Security and Medicare to strike a budget deal. Rather, the economic pressures facing older Americans warrant an open, thoughtful discussion on ways to enhance retirement security and strengthen the bedrock programs that provide it.
AARP will continue to remind our leaders of the importance of Social Security and Medicare in Wisconsin and across the country. Of course budgets matter. But we should never forget their impact on the real people behind the numbers.
Written by AARP Wisconsin State President Pat Killeen
[Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2012/Flickr]