When President Gerald Ford created the first National African American History Month in 1976, he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Since then, every American president has issued African American History Month proclamations.
This year, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare will commemorate the month with blog posts from a number of the nation’s leading policy analysts, lawmakers, and community leaders. We’ll examine the importance of programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to the African American community while also paying tribute to generations of African Americans who have struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. NCPSSM Board Chair, Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, begins the month with a look to the future.
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore
NCPSSM Board Chair and President/CEO of Global Policy Solutions
Strengthening Social Security for a Changing America
Some may be afraid of the news.
Children of color are now a majority of all babies born in the U.S.
And the Census Bureau projects that people of color will exceed the number of whites by the year 2043.
From debt reduction proposals to education and health policies, our nation’s changing racial and ethnic demographics have implications for a wide range of policy decisions at the forefront of the national debate about America’s future. Social Security is a case in point.
The strength of Social Security will be more important than ever because people of color are the least likely to have other sources of wealth to rely on in retirement or in the event of disability or the early death of a breadwinner. The ongoing debate about inequality in America has virtually ignored the racial wealth gap even as demographic shifts indicate its growing significance for the nation. A recent Pew Research Center report showed that in 2009 the typical African American and Latino household owned only five and six cents respectively for every one dollar in assets held by the average non-Hispanic white family. This wealth disparity is reflected in how racial and ethnic groups use Social Security.
The program accounts for the bulk of retirement income for 70 percent of Americans, but its importance as a retirement savings vehicle is even larger for people of color. According to the Social Security Administration, African American and Hispanic seniors are more likely than whites to rely on Social Security for all or almost all of their retirement income.
Reasons for racial wealth disparities are complex but include the fact that people of color have less access to private pension plans and lower enrollment in or contributions to them when they are available, lower rates of investing and home ownership, and fewer opportunities for wealth creation through business ownership. People of color also have a heavier reliance on Social Security’s survivor and disability benefits. For example, only 26 percent of whites receiving Social Security rely on it for non-retirement benefits compared to 47 percent of African Americans and 41 percent of other people of color. The poorer health status, lower levels of education, and higher rates of poverty experienced by some people of color contribute to their disproportionate rates of disability and early death.
Some believe that race or ethnicity doesn’t matter when it comes to reforming Social Security. But this perspective ignores the fact that there are demographic winners and losers depending on how the program is structured. For example, raising the retirement age—a popular reform option among Republicans and some Democrats—disadvantages those with shorter life spans: a group that is blacker, browner, poorer, and more blue-collar than those who live longer.
There is a fairer way to reform Social Security so that it is well financed and strong for at least another 75 years. One approach, advanced by the Commission to Modernize Social Security (of which I am a co-chair), recommends removing the cap on payroll taxes so that high wage earners contribute more, extending coverage to all newly hired state and local workers and slowly increasing the Social Security payroll tax by a fraction of a percent over a 20-year period to close the funding gap. The Commission’s report also calls for strengthening benefits to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and economically insecure society. It recommends boosting benefits for the very old, widowed spouses, and the very poor; providing credits for workers taking time off to care for family members; and restoring benefits for college students whose working parent has died, become disabled, or retired.
In his remarks upon the release of the Social Security Trustees report, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called for a solution that “…strengthens Social Security and does not hurt current recipients, slash benefits for future generations, or tie the program to the stock market.” By prioritizing an equitable reform approach that secures Social Security’s finances while making benefits stronger for everyone, the Commission’s proposal meets Mr. Geithner’s test. As a result, it should receive a full and fair hearing in Washington.
Some politicians, backed by the billion dollar anti Social Security and Medicare lobby, have tried to use a series of self-created Congressional fiscal “crises” to justify benefit cuts to millions of American families. Cutting already modest benefits in Social Security ignores the true causes of our federal deficit and weakens our nation’s most successful anti-poverty and retirement security program. Given the high stakes for U.S. workers of all backgrounds, our nation’s leaders should resist back room deal making in favor of an open process that gives ample consideration to proposals strengthening, not cutting, Social Security to address the needs of an increasingly diverse America.
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is Board Chair of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, Co-chair of the Commission to Modernize Social Security, and President of Global Policy Solutions, a policy consulting firm based in Washington, DC.
CATEGORY: [Disability], [entitlement reform], [Social Security]
How ironic that, as our nation prepares to honor those who’ve served in America’s military on this Veterans Day, some in Washington are proposing benefit cuts targeting millions of military retirees and disabled veterans. A coalition of veterans, seniors, and disability organizations has mobilized in opposition to proposals which would change the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA), cutting benefits to pay down the debt.
• Social Security is the largest program serving veterans and their families. Over 9 million veterans receive Social Security benefits—four out of ten veterans. The chained CPI will be a double benefit cut for veterans who receive both Social Security and VA benefits.
• The Chained CPI cuts benefits and raises taxes, largely on the poor and middle class, totaling $208 billion over ten years. $112 billion in benefits cuts come from Social Security alone with up to $24 billion coming from VA benefits and civilian and military retirement pay cuts.
The National Committee has organized a coalition of more than 50 national organizations to urge Congress to oppose passage of the Chained CPI. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined us on a media conference call to detail the real-life impact this COLA change would have on millions of average Americans, especially retired military.
“This Sunday is Veterans Day – a special day to honor the men and women who have bravely served our country. It is also a time to remember the promises we have made to our nation’s wounded warriors and to keep those promises,” said Sanders. “The chained CPI has been referred to by Republicans and some Democrats in Washington as a ‘minor tweak,’ but let’s be clear: for millions of disabled veterans and seniors living on fixed incomes, the chained CPI is a significant benefit cut that will make it harder for permanently disabled veterans and the elderly to make ends meet,” Sanders continued.
“A chained CPI has a very insidious effect on retired pay by reducing cost-of-living adjustments by about one-quarter of a percentage point each year. Although that doesn’t sound like much, the compounding effect over a retiree’s lifetime is significant, especially for military and disabled retirees because they start drawing inflation-adjusted pay at relatively younger ages.”… Herb Rosenbleeth, National Executive Director, Jewish War Veterans of the USA
“A Chained CPI would cut important benefits to disabled veterans, military retirees, their families and their survivors from the World Wars to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a nation, we share a solemn obligation to help those who honorably served and their families keep pace with inflation, not to erode their quality of life.” Rick Jones, Legislative Director, National Association for Uniformed Services
More than 50 national organizations representing veterans, military retirees, retired federal workers, seniors, and people with disabilities have also signed a letter to members of Congress urging them to oppose cutting benefits through passage of the chained CPI. In addition to cutting veterans benefits, the chained CPI would mean a benefit cut of $130 per years for the typical 65-year old retirees growing exponentially to a $1,400 cut after 30 years of retirement.
“Targeting the oldest of America’s retirees, including our veterans, for benefit cuts they simply can not afford is neither honorable nor responsible. The chained CPI is a backdoor benefit cut and tax increase which politicians hope to pass off on average Americans to pay for tax cuts the wealthy don’t need. Congress needs to recognize the long term, negative impact this decision carries with it. We’re talking about placing more financial stress on people who have served their country, their communities and their families. Are they really who Congress should be aiming for?”…Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
“The chained CPI would especially hurt people with disabilities, who often rely on Social Security or Supplemental Security Income to survive and may need benefits for many years. Cuts from the chained CPI will add up over the years at an alarming rate and make it increasingly hard for people with disabilities to live in the community and pay for essentials like housing, utilities, clothing, and food.” … Marty Ford, Policy Director, The Arc of the United States
“The chained-CPI proposal amounts to a tax increase for America’s seniors, who are living on fixed incomes. After our nation’s retired federal employees served their country for decades – including many who also served in the military – it is wrong to shortchange them with lowballed cost-of-living adjustments.” …Joseph A. Beaudoin, President, NARFE
A copy of the joint letter to Congress is posted on the National Committee’s website.
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [Disability], [Max Richtman], [Social Security]
No doubt you’ve already seen the Mitt Romney video in which he describes to a group of $50,000 per plate donors his view of almost half of America’s population:
“There are 47 percent who are with him, (Obama) who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax. “[M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Mitt Romney, Florida Fundraising Event
While Governor Romney later described his comments as “not elegantly stated”, he stands by his basic point that nearly half of America see themselves victims and believe they are entitled to something. So where does this 47% come from? Romney’s comments are an odd amalgam of two reports: one on the number of Americans who don’t pay income taxes (not all taxes) and the other on the number of Americans who receive some form of government benefit including: retirees, college students, veterans and farmers – just to name a few. Together these two reports are used to bolster the often-expressed GOP view that America is a nation of “makers vs. takers”.
America’s retirees need to listen up…you are among the “takers” Mitt Romney criticizes as “dependent” because of your tax status and that you dare to receive the Social Security and Medicare benefits you’ve earned. Ezra Klein describes how seniors work into the Romney tax argument:
“The vast majority of households that don’t pay federal income taxes are either elderly or paying payroll taxes. As you can see below, 60 percent of those who don’t pay income tax are still working and paying taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Their tax liability is just too low to qualify for the income tax. Another 22 percent of non-payers are retirees. Only about 7.9 percent of households are not paying any federal taxes at all. That’s usually because they’re either unemployed or on disability or students or are very poor.”
So, targeted tax credits for the elderly puts retirees among the GOP “taker” class -- regardless of the fact that most seniors paid a lifetime of income taxes while employed and continue to pay other taxes even into retirement. In addition, collecting the Social Security and Medicare benefits that you contributed to throughout your working lifetime also makes you “dependent” and “entitled” in the Romney/Ryan political perspective in which safety net programs are simply:
“…a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and the intent to make the most of their lives.” Paul Ryan, March 2012
The Romney/Ryan economic strategy which claims our nation can’t afford tax cuts benefiting the poor and middle-class while at the same time proposing more tax cuts for the wealthy – to be paid for with benefit cuts for average Americans – has been laid out for all to see.
“Republicans have become outraged over the predictable effect of tax cuts they passed and are using that outrage as the justification for an agenda that further cuts taxes on the rich and pays for it by cutting social services for the non-rich. That’s why Romney’s theory here is more than merely impolitic. It’s actually core to his economic agenda.” Washington Post, Wonk Blog
“Romney's message is that in order to lower taxes for his wealthy friends he will demand that retirees who worked hard, played by the rules, saved for retirement and counted on the promise of Social Security and Medicare, "take personal responsibility" and pay higher taxes, receive less in Social Security and trade in the promise of Medicare for Ryan's Vouchercare, ending Medicare as we know it.” Daily Kos
Seniors need to ask themselves -- Does this really sound like a President who will fight to preserve your economic security or your family’s? Because if you're not Mitt Romney's worry just 48 days before election day when will you be?
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Disability], [entitlement reform], [Medicare], [Presidential Politics], [Retirement], [Social Security]
There's news today that the Social Security Administration has offered early retirement to 9,000 employees…that’s a whopping 14% of its workforce.
The attacks on Social Security aren’t limited to benefit cuts alone. It's clear some in Congress seek to undermine the program in as many ways as possible and seniors and the disabled will ultimately pay the price.
Conservatives in Congress have long espoused a political philosophy that says if you can’t kill a successful government program, like Social Security or Medicare, let’s just starve them to death instead. That’s exactly what’s been done over recent years to the Social Security Administration. Rather than budgeting and preparing for a growing number of retiring Americans – after all, the Baby Boomer generation is hardly a surprise – Congress has chosen this time in our history to make devastating budget cuts to one of the nation’s most efficient, effective and well-respected agencies whose services touch virtually every American family.
Already, Social Security field offices have had to close 30 minutes early thanks to budget cuts, the agency has had to freeze hiring, expects to lose about 2,500 federal employees, plus 1,000 state employees who are paid with federal funds; did not open eight new hearing offices; and has suspended mailing Social Security statements.
Some estimates show that thanks to these budget attacks the SSA workforce could drop by an additional 4,400 federal and state employees, for a total of 7,900 workers in two years. Almost 400,000 fewer disability claims would be processed, taking the backlog to 1.2 million and the processing time to longer than four months.
Does this sound like good governance or politics as usual to you?
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Budget], [Disability], [Presidential Politics], [Retirement], [Social Security]
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare Foundation
, the National Organization for Women Foundation
and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research
briefed Congressional staff today on their research examining the challenges facing America’s elderly women and their families. Our report, Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling
proposes initiatives to ensure Social Security benefits are adequate for all Americans, particularly for women and women of color.
“The truth is -- as our nation ages and retirement income continues to decline for millions of Americans – Congress should be talking about the adequacy of Social Security’s benefits not cutting them. Congress should examine the inequities that have created a poverty rate for senior women and widows that is 50% higher than other retirees 65 and older. We can break this Social Security glass ceiling…in fact, we must do so to preserve the economic security of generations of American women and their families.” Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO
“Our proposals are designed to modernize the Social Security system and recognize particularly the changes that have occurred in women's lives and in family life, so that women will be rewarded more fairly for the full value of the work they do, both in the labor market and in raising the next generation. We can strengthen the Social Security system to address the gender gap in retirement that reveals many more older women in poverty than older men, while still addressing the financial needs of the program.” Dr. Heidi Hartmann, Institute for Women's Policy Research President
“If implemented, the recommendations we make in 'Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling' will go a long way toward creating a retirement and disability insurance program that recognizes the new reality of working women and men and values women's role in society as both breadwinners and primary caregivers. Crediting women's years out of the paid labor force is a long overdue feature that NOW strongly supports and urges lawmakers to support as well.” Terry O’Neill, NOW Foundation President
Here are just some of the recommendations in this groundbreaking report:
- Improving Survivor Benefits. Women living alone often are forced into poverty because of benefit reductions stemming from the death of a spouse. Providing a widow or widower with 75 percent of the couple's combined benefit treats one-earner and two-earner couples more fairly and reduces the likelihood of leaving the survivor in poverty.
- Providing Social Security Credits for Caregivers. We recommend imputed earnings for up to five family service years be granted to a worker who leaves or reduces his/her participation in the work force to provide care to children under the age of six or to elderly family members.
- Equal Benefits for Same-Sex Married Couples and Partners. Gay and lesbian same-sex couples, whether married or not, are denied a host of benefits under state and federal law that are routinely provided to heterosexual married couples. Social Security benefits should not be denied to qualified retirees because of their sexual orientation.
- Restoring Student Benefits. Social Security pays benefits to children until age 18, or 19 if they are still attending high school, if a working parent has died, become disabled or retired. In the past, those benefits continued until age 22 if the child was a full-time student in college or a vocational school. Congress ended post-secondary students’ benefits in 1981 which has disproportionately hurt children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African Americans, and lower income students.
“Social Security is a vital lifeline for all Americans, especially women and people of color. When you consider that Social Security provides 90% of seniors’ income for 58% of unmarried women of color, 53% of Hispanics and 47% of African Americans it’s hard to understand why benefit cuts are always the first answer for fiscal hawks hoping to use Social Security for deficit reduction. Building on what works, ‘Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling’ offers a modernization plan for Social Security that would strengthen benefits for women and their families while improving the equity and adequacy for generations of Americans.” Dr. Carroll Estes, NPCSSM Foundation Board Chair
While some suggest we can’t afford to provide even current level benefits to America’s retirees, disabled and their families, we disagree. In fact, we believe our nation can’t afford not to
provide fair and adequate benefits for future generations of working Americans. A number of funding options are included in this research, including:
- Eliminate the Cap on Social Security Payroll Contributions.
- Slowly Increase the Contribution Rate by 1/40th of One Percent over 20 years.
- Treat all Salary Reduction Plans like 401K’s.
Together, these proposals provide revenue increases equal to 3.99% of taxable payroll. They would close the actuarial deficit (2.67% of payroll) while also funding the modest program improvements recommended.
Here's the link to the full report, “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling”.
You can watch the entire briefing here on CSPAN
CATEGORY: [Aging Issues], [Disability], [Max Richtman], [pensions], [Retirement], [Social Security]
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