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From the category archives: Aging Issues

Why We Need to BOOST Social Security -- New CBS Poll Shows Retirement Still Elusive for Many

We’ve wasted years of political discourse led by a billion dollar Wall Street campaign to convince America we can’t afford a strong Social Security system.  While those like Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson and Paul Ryan, believe middle class families should foot the bill for trillions in tax breaks for huge corporations and the wealthiest among us, step outside Washington and Wall Street and it’s clear the average American disagrees. 

Our nation’s middle class continues to struggle and for older workers, the prospect of retirement remains elusive.  A new CBS poll describes the economic realities facing most Americans.

 “Seven of 10 Americans who haven't retired yet find it hard to save for retirement while also paying the bills and meeting their basic living expenses, a new CBS News poll shows. Not surprisingly, those earning less are having more difficulty setting money aside. More than 80 percent of people making less than $50,000 a year say it is hard to keep up with bills and save for retirement at the same time, and half say it is very hard.

"There is a segment of the population who cannot afford food and rent and to save for retirement, and they rationally choose rent and food over retirement savings," said Anthony Webb, senior research economist with Boston College's Center for Retirement Research.”

According to the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a sizable percentage of workers report they have virtually no savings and investments. More than a third (36 percent) of retired civilian workers say they have less than $1,000 (up from 28 percent in 2013). A quarter of workers and 17 percent of retirees indicate that their current level of debt is higher than it was five years ago.  The CBS poll received similar responses:

“But the country's troubling shortfall in retirement savings isn't confined to lower-income earners. More than 60 percent of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year say it is hard to save for retirement, according to the telephone poll of more than 1,000 adults around the U.S.”

Social Security remains the only stable source of income for many families who are still rebuilding after our nation’s recent brush with economic collapse.  This is exactly why it’s time to shift the debate to where it should have been all along...boosting benefits. 

Building upon the growing public support for expanding Social Security, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has launched the Boost Social Security Now education campaign to inform and mobilize our membership, grassroots networks and on-line communities to convince Congress that now is the time to boost benefits, not cut them.  

Please take a moment and join our growing movement.  Call Congress, Write a Letter and Sign our Petition telling Washington Now’s the time to Boost Social Security!

How About Giving the Truth about Social Security "Equal Time"

Attempts to reignite the intergenerational warfare campaign against Social Security --  led by the billion dollar austerity lobby -- seem to have hit a new high.  Alternet highlights just a few of the recent instances:

A string of recent examples—rants [3] from MSNBC’s wealthy young commentator, a notorious elderly-attacking [4] House candidate, think tanks promoted [5] on NPR—generational warfare cheerleaders are proclaiming that America is heading toward an epic and immoral conflict as better-off seniors are robbing millennials of shrinking federal dollars because retirement programs cost too much. That’s simply false, as Social Security is solvent [6] through 2033, and spending on all mandatory programs as a percentage of GDP is close to [7] where it’s been since 1975, at 21 percent. 

This line of attack isn’t in a political vacuum. It comes as some Democrats are reframing [8] the debate on Social Security and campaigning [9] for increased benefits. Nor is it a new argument, as a right-wing club of libertarians, Wall Street bankers and deficit hawks have tried for decades to undermine and privatize the program.

For MSNBC’s, Abby Hunstman, this is the second time in as many weeks that she’s taken to the airwaves with a monologue chock-full of errors and political rhetoric heavy of drama and light on the facts.  NCPSSM’s Equal Time, joined the Los Angeles Times and others in pointing out just a few of those errors in her first attempt to “educate” millennials:

Millennials Face Big Problems – Abby Hunstman, MSNBC

 “Here’s the reality, at the rate we’re spending, the system (Social Security) will be bankrupt by the time you and I are actually eligible to get these benefits.”

“We can’t afford it.”

“While we’re living two decades longer we haven’t made any changes.”

MSNBC anchor Abby Huntsman (daughter of GOP Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman) clearly misunderstands Social Security’s funding  and twists both life expectancy data and worker ratios to the breaking point to build a false case for cutting Social Security benefits for millennials.   Contrary to Huntsman’s claims, there is not a single scenario or economic projection in which Social Security goes bankrupt, most  Americans aren’t living 20 years longer and there have been numerous reforms to Social Security in the past,  including raising the retirement age.

If Washington does nothing at all by the time the Trust Fund is depleted in 2033, millennials and generations after them will receive a 25% benefit cut.  Huntsman urges raising the retirement age to 70-75 on top of that which means an even larger benefit cut for our children and grandchildren.  Unfortunately, rather than educating her fellow millennials with the facts,  her “fix” for Social Security comes straight from the multi-billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s talking points.   There are ways to fill the funding gap without hitting future generations with huge benefit cuts. Rather than gutting Social Security under the guise of “fixing it”, Congress should lift the payroll tax cap and enact other meaningful reforms to strengthen the program for future generations. 

Inexplicably, rather than address her mistakes Huntsman then chose to double-down on them with a second error-laden missive.  Michael Hiltzik with the Los Angeles Times tried, a second time, to help her with the “basic math” she claims to understand:

Huntsman complained that I called her out for asking how we're going to pay the rising costs of the health and social insurance programs, as though "even raising the question means you're automatically anti-Social Security or against the elderly."

No. I called her out for raising the question using bogus numbers, such as life-expectancy rates from birth, which have risen sharply since the '30s but aren't relevant to Social Security's fiscal health. Instead, the key figure is life expectancy from age 65, which hasn't risen very sharply. (Huntsman appears to accept this point.)

Huntsman offered several possible remedies for rising costs in these programs -- means-testing benefits, increasing the retirement age, raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 from 65 -- and complained that we're not even debating these options.

That's where she really goes off the rails. We have been debating those options, for years. They've all been studied, measured, calculated and scored. The reason they haven't been implemented is that none of them is simple. None of those she listed would have an appreciable positive effect on the fiscal health of the programs, and some, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, might make the overall federal budget picture worse.

Economist Dean Baker also gave it a try:

“The far greater risk to the living standards to the people of Huntsman's generation is the risk that we will continue to see the upward redistribution of income over the next three decades that we have seen over the last three decades. As a result of this upward redistribution of income, people like Ms. Huntsman's father have benefited enormously, while most workers have seen little or none of the gains from economic growth. If this pattern continues then most people in Ms. Huntsman's cohort will not fare well financially even if we eliminated their Social Security taxes altogether.”

So Huntsman continues to take her cues directly from the billion dollar Wall Street campaign to paint Social Security & Medicare as the biggest threat to future generations while ignoring the income inequality which will curse millennials for a lifetime.  

Seniors and Poverty

The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced a wonderful new video, Old and Poor: America’s Forgotten.  It was debuted at this week’s Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing examining the war on poverty and seniors.  We consider this a must-watch, must-share video.

Do You “Know Your Rights?”

New Education Campaign Informs LGBT Community about Their New Social Security Benefits Eligibility

Hundreds of Northern California same-sex spouses, and elder lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans attended the nation’s first “Know Your Rights” education sessions sponsored by NCPSSM’s foundation and our local partners. The events provided participants vital information about Social Security benefits now available thanks to the Supreme Court’s June 2013 Windsor ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act.

For the first time in its long history, the Social Security Administration is providing benefits to same sex married couples which has important financial implications for millions of LGBT Americans.  The “Know Your Rights” campaign’s goal is to ensure LGBT Americans understand their rights to benefits.

“ ‘Know Your Rights’ is the first outreach program of its kind in the nation and a model for an education campaign potentially reaching millions of LGBT Americans from coast to coast.

The National Committee Foundation is proud to lead this campaign because it’s vital that we get the word out to the LGBT community so that they can begin the process of filing for benefits with the Social Security Administration.”...Carroll L. Estes, Ph.D., National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation Board Chair

“We were honored to offer a launch pad for the National Committee Foundation’s critically important efforts to help make the Supreme Court’s historic decision effective by expanding the principles of social justice and equal treatment to Social Security.  Over the coming years, millions of same-sex couples will get the federal benefits they have earned, and the human respect they deserve.”...Dr. Thomas Peters, President & CEO, Marin Community Foundation

With the support of a lead grant from the Marin Community Foundation, the Northern California sessions included panel discussions with the Social Security Administration, legal experts, and seniors’ and LGBT advocates.  The outreach sessions in Marin, San Francisco and Sonoma Counties were coordinated with local partners, Spectrum LGBT Center and Openhouse. 

"With marriage for same-sex couples now recognized by one third of the states and the federal government, more and more LGBT Americans have access to benefits and responsibilities we have not had to consider before," said Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn. "For older same-sex couples, Social Security benefits are particularly important. These kinds of town hall meetings provide critical information about what these benefits mean for LGBT families and how to access them. The "Know Your Rights" outreach effort is a great model that brings the LGBT community together with local leaders and national partners to talk about these issues and begin the dialogue."

"The Social Security Town Halls give LGBT Americans - and LGBT older adults in particular - an opportunity to learn about federal benefits previously denied to them because of the discriminatory policy of offering only married, heterosexual couples and their families this critical financial benefit. It is through robust education and outreach that we will reach these people - so used to being excluded from the system - and encourage them to apply." Paula Pilecki, Spectrum LGBT Center Executive Director

Before the DOMA ruling, a child whose same-sex parent died forfeited as much as $15,000 each year in survivor income, totaling $256,000 before he/she reached age 18.  There are an estimated quarter million children being raised by same-sex couples who can now qualify for Social Security survivors benefits.  When it comes to retirement, same-sex spouses lost, on average, more than $8,000 each year in earned spousal retirement benefits because their marriage was not recognized by the federal government.  The Social Security Administration has urged the LGBT community to file for benefits now, even as new regulations are being finalized.

California, with the largest LGBT population in the country and the largest number of Social Security beneficiaries, was the logical choice for the first series of educational forums and sets the stage for a nationwide outreach effort. You can find more information on the "Know Your Rights" campaign on our foundation’s website.


Busting Social Security Myths

Busting Washington’s biggest Social Security myths


Special to The Tampa Tribune

Published: September 12, 2013

There is no other issue where the disconnect between Congress and the American people is more stark than the future of Social Security. Thanks to Washington’s well-financed austerity lobby, the truth about Social Security has become obscured by political propaganda designed to persuade lawmakers to use Social Security’s revenues to fix fiscal problems completely unrelated to the program.

Whether it’s cutting benefits in the name of deficit reduction (even though Social Security by law cannot contribute to the debt) or using Social Security as political leverage in Washington’s version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” these approaches ignore the fact that Social Security is paid for, earned by, and promised to American workers.

Myth One: Social Security is a driver of our nation’s deficit.

Although some in Washington claim America can’t afford Social Security, the truth is, this program provides economic benefits to every state and community in our nation.

Nationwide, families spend $775 billion in Social Security benefits annually. In Florida, $56 billion dollars in Social Security benefits are paid to four million retirees, disabled and survivors, including children, each year. When those families use the purchasing power of their benefits, they are supporting local businesses and the state economy with billions of dollars they simply wouldn’t have without Social Security.

Unfortunately, this economic reality has been ignored by those who want to cut middle-class benefits in the name of austerity. Targeting families who rely on vital programs such as Social Security ignores our real economic problems in favor of a political strategy to cut safety net programs. Members of Congress should take a look at the state-by-state economic profiles from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and ask themselves, “Can my community afford to lose millions of dollars from our economy?” Step outside Capitol Hill and the answer is a resounding “No.”

Myth Two: Seniors are “greedy geezers.”

One of the favorite messages used widely by Washington’s billion-dollar, anti-Social Security lobby is that America’s “greedy geezers” are stealing from their grandchildren. They claim that if we allow retirees to collect the Social Security benefits they’ve paid for throughout their working lives, then somehow our children will suffer. This mythological link between funding for seniors programs and children’s programs makes for good propaganda but there’s literally no basis in reality for such linkage. In fact, new research by the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that real linkage may exist between the dollars spent on our nation’s top 1 percent income earners and reduced spending on children.

Cutting benefits to generations of middle-class families won’t help the children, parents or grandparents in those families. The Recession Generation and beyond will need Social Security as much, if not more, than current generations. It’s time to reverse a 40-year trend of income inequality and redistribution to the wealthy while reigniting the American dream for middle-class families, which benefits young and old alike.

Myth Three: Immigration reform and the repeal of DOMA will bankrupt Social Security.

Those opposed to immigration reform and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act have attempted to use vital programs, such as Social Security, as an economic excuse to avoid doing the right thing. The truth is, neither legislative issue threatens Social Security. The Congressional Budget Office estimates new taxes paid by undocumented workers granted provisional legal status would cut federal budget deficits by $197 billion over 10 years. Social Security’s chief actuary estimates immigration reform would increase Social Security’s Trust Fund reserves by $248 billion by the end of 2024 and extend the program’s solvency by two years. The actuary also predicts providing benefit equity to qualified same-sex couples in retirement is a break-even proposition.

Myth Four: The whopper of all — Social Security will be bankrupt.

The truth is, even if Congress does nothing at all, Social Security is projected to deliver full guaranteed benefits until at least 2033. Even after 2033, Social Security will be able to pay about 77 percent of promised benefits out of the payroll contributions that will continue coming into the system. If Congress enacts modest changes, such as requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share of payroll taxes, Social Security will be able to meet its full benefit obligations well beyond 2033. No one wants to see benefits cut to 77 percent; however, that’s not bankruptcy by any definition of the word.

The state of Social Security is strong today and should be made stronger for the future. But if our nation’s leaders want to be serious about addressing the long-term outlook for our nation’s most successful government program, then myths have no place in any Social Security debate.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of The National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, based in Washington, D.C.

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