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The Retirement Security Gap Between America’s Rich and Poor Continues to Grow

New GAO Report Provides Startling Details on Disparities and Their Impact 

on Social Security Benefits


Growing disparities in life expectancy between America’s rich and poor are eroding the progressive nature of Social Security. A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, requested by Senator Bernie Sanders, shows that low-income American men will lose 11%-14% of their lifetime Social Security benefits while high-income men will see a 16%-18% benefit boost due to this growing gap.

“This report is especially important when you consider the political push to raise Social Security’s retirement age to reduce benefits.  Forcing average Americans to delay retirement until 70, as suggested by some in Washington, would mean even smaller benefits for lower-income groups.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has long opposed increasing the Social Security retirement age as nothing but a cruel cut in benefits, and this GAO report shows exactly how cruel it would be.  Instead of cutting Social Security, Congress should boost benefits so that Social Security can continue to fulfill its promise providing an adequate base of income for America’s seniors.  Our thanks to Senator Sanders for his strong leadership in requesting this important report. It’s a must-read for any candidate who truly cares about keeping America’s promise of retirement security.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

America’s wealthiest are not only living longer and collecting more Social Security benefits, they are also contributing less to the program than at any time in recent history. In the past, the Social Security tax cap has been set at a level that covered about 90 percent of all earnings. Currently, however, only about 83 percent of earnings are subject to the Social Security payroll tax. This means the wealthy, who’ve benefited from disproportionate wage growth, have also been exempt from paying into Social Security on those gains above the $118,500 cap.

The National Committee supports legislation, including Senator Sanders’ “Social Security Expansion Act”, which would lift the payroll tax cap, boost benefits and adopt a cost of living formula for seniors. 

You can read the GAO report here.

What do GOP “Affluenza,” Social Security and Average Americans have in Common?

Believe it or not...it’s Donald Trump. 

While the Republican Party in Washington continues its search for a solution to “the Donald problem,” a number of analysts have offered insight into how Donald Trump has continued to convince voters that he’s qualified to be President. In the immortal words of James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s iconic campaign advisor:  “It’s (still) the economy, stupid.”

“...the Re­pub­lic­ans were so busy fight­ing Obama­care, push­ing to cut taxes and the size of gov­ern­ment, and fight­ing cul­ture wars that they didn’t see that their party had changed and along with it their base’s needs. Much of what Re­pub­lic­ans were talk­ing about didn’t res­on­ate with work­ing-class people who didn’t have the lux­ury to weigh ab­stract is­sues when they had to worry about how to feed, clothe, and house their kids, and how to make it to the next paycheck.”...Charlie Cook, National Journal Political Analyst

The New York Times also describes how the GOP elite lost its voters to Donald Trump:

“...the story is also one of a party elite that abandoned its most faithful voters, blue-collar white Americans, who faced economic pain and uncertainty over the past decade as the party’s donors, lawmakers and lobbyists prospered. From mobile home parks in Florida and factory towns in Michigan, to Virginia’s coal country, where as many as one in five adults live on Social Security disability payments, disenchanted Republican voters lost faith in the agenda of their party’s leaders.

In dozens of interviews, Republican lawmakers, donors, activists and others described — some with resignation, some with anger — a party that paved the way for a Trump-like figure to steal its base, as it lost touch with less affluent voters and misunderstood their growing anguish.

While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.”

We all remember the incongruence of Tea Party protestors bashing the federal government while also holding signs in support of America’s most successful federal programs, Social Security and Medicare. However, that conflicting message isn’t hard to understand once you acknowledge the fact that while wealthy GOP donors remain the nation’s most vociferous supporters of privatizing and cutting these programs (they have the most to gain financially) average Americans of all political persuasions do not support destroying our nation’s retirement and healthcare safety net.

“In Washington, Republicans read Tea Party anger over Mr. Obama’s health care law as a principled rejection of social welfare programs, despite evidence that those voters broadly supported spending they believed they deserved, like Social Security and Medicare. Amid intense anger at Wall Street, Republicans urged voters to blame the recession on excessively generous federal home-lending policies, while moving to roll back regulation of one of their biggest sources of campaign money, the financial industry.”

“During a recent interview with CNBC, Mr. Ryan was asked if Republicans needed to respond to less-affluent voters who believed that Republicans were tending only to the interests of those at the top. Mr. Ryan, who during the same interview called again for the overhaul of entitlements and the reduction of debt, rejected that idea. “People don’t think like that,” he said. “People want to know the deck is fair. Bernie Sanders talks about that stuff. That’s not who we are.”...The New York Times.

Paul Ryan is right, that’s not who the modern Republican Party is – and that’s where Donald Trump comes in.  Unlike the GOP leadership in Washington, he recognized the massive disconnect between conservative elites and voters.  He even warned conservatives at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference:

"As Republicans, if you think you are going to change very substantially for the worse Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in any substantial way, and at the same time you think you are going to win elections, it just really is not going to happen," Mr. Trump said, adding that polls show that tea partyers are among those who don't want their entitlements changed." ...Donald Trump, 2013 CPAC speech, Washington Times

However, let’s not confuse political astuteness with policy conviction.  Donald Trump version 2.0 is very different than the Donald Trump who’s called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme,” advocated for raising the retirement age to 70 and privatizing Social Security. Even this newly-minted candidate Trump has yet to offer a plan for Social Security other than the classic conservative canard of getting rid of waste, fraud and abuse, which is very small:

  • Since 1989, SSA’s annual administrative costs have been about 1%
  • Fraud in SSI is less than 1% with underpayments more likely than overpayments.
  • There are Social Security numbers linked to people that should have been closed; however, it has not led to significant overpayments 

It’s no wonder the Republican Party is in a panic. Re­pub­lic­an strategist Steve Schmidt on MS­N­BC’s Morn­ing Joe called the Republican Party, “disconnected and decapitated” as they, to this day, continue to ignore the economic reality (and the effect of their trickle-down economic policies) on average Americans.

“The Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment in Wash­ing­ton has a case of af­flu­enza. You have six of the 10 wealth­i­est counties in the coun­try sur­round D.C. You have a real-es­tate mar­ket that took a nar­row down­turn but re­boun­ded very quickly. You have a city that’s in­su­lated from eco­nom­ic dis­tress; it’s re­ces­sion-proof to some de­gree. So this Re­pub­lic­an es­tab­lish­ment, the con­sult­ing class in Wash­ing­ton, these are not liv­ing-wage jobs. And at the end of the day, I think they totally miss the psych­ic im­pact, the eco­nom­ic im­pact of the Great Re­ces­sion, of the       eco­nom­ic col­lapse.

It was such a seismic event in the modern history of the country that even eight years later it's the defining issue of the 2016 campaign as it was the defining issue of the 2008 fall campaign. And they just don't get it. They don't understand the impact for blue-collar wage workers in this country over a 20 year basis and you're seeing this now all play out in this general election.”

Not surprisingly, all of the GOP’s preferred candidates for President (those already gone and still remaining) support cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Proving, once again, they still don’t get it.


The Economic Crisis Candidates Continue to Ignore

The Economic Policy Institute’s “The State of American Retirement” combined with the National Institute on Retirement Security’s new report on women and retirement paint a very clear picture of a nation on the brink of an economic crisis that will devastate millions of average American families, if Washington continues to turn a blind eye.

The median family between the ages of 32 and 61 has only $5,000 saved in a retirement account, while the top 1 percent of families has a million dollars or more. For many groups—lower-income, black, Hispanic, non-college-educated, and unmarried—the typical working-age family has no savings at all in these accounts....The State of American Retirement.

“Our retirement system used to reduce inequality, but since the shift to 401(k)s it has only served to magnify it. These accounts are accidents of history that were never designed to replace pensions, and it should come as no surprise that they have not worked for the majority of people.” ...Monique Morrissey, EPI Economist

The numbers are stark:

  • Nearly half of all working-age families have zero retirement savings.
  • Almost nine in 10 families in the top income fifth have savings in retirement accounts, compared to fewer than one in 10 families in the bottom income fifth.
  • Only 41 percent of black families and 26 percent of Hispanic families have retirement account savings, compared with 65 percent of white non-Hispanic families.
  • Only married couples are more likely than not to have retirement account savings.

News that the income inequality hindering American workers now is also carrying over to their retirement is alarming for future generations who are taking an economic hit at every stage of life.  For women, the retirement picture is even worse. 

“A new analysis finds that women are 80% likely than men to be impoverished in retirement. The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) finds that across all age groups, women have substantially less income in retirement than men. For women age 65 and older, the data indicate that their typical income is 25 percent lower than men. As men and women age, men’s income advantage widens to 44 percent by age 80 and older. Consequently, women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older, while women age 75 to 79 were three times more likely to fall below the poverty level as compared to their male counterparts.”... National Institute on Retirement Security

Just as we’ve seen from climate change deniers, many Republican politicians won’t even acknowledge the retirement crisis exists because improving the nation’s most successful federal retirement programs is anathema to their misguided belief that Wall Street should be handling your savings and for-profit insurance companies managing your health. Instead of supporting proposals to improve the backbone of America’s retirement system, Social Security and Medicare, conservatives continue their campaign to privatize and cut. 

There are legislative proposals which would improve Americans’ retirement picture but they are languishing in the GOP controlled Congress.  You can see many of these proposals on our Legislative tracker.  We also continue to advocate for meaning changes impacting retirement security for women.  Please take a moment and see those details on our Eleanor’s Hope initiative website. 

GOP Plans for Medicare? All Slash No Strengthen

The House Ways & Means Subcommittee on Health held a hearing entitled "Preserving and Strengthening Medicare."  Unfortunately, as the ranking member Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) made clear, this hearing actually had virtually nothing to do with preserving and strengthening Medicare:

“This is the first Health Subcommittee hearing of the year, and it could have been an opportunity to have a fresh, constructive conversation about Medicare. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case. It looks like we should expect more of the same from my Republican colleagues this morning – bad ideas repeated incessantly in the hope that the American people eventually fall for them.

The core proposal that my Republican colleagues have offered – to end Medicare as we know it – will have devastating effects on seniors. It will shift costs onto beneficiaries, create more losers than winners, and lead to a death spiral in traditional Medicare.

We all know this.”

NCPSSM President/CEO, Max Richtman, submitted testimony to the Committee and reacted to the day’s proceedings:

“Unfortunately, today’s Congressional hearing on ‘Preserving and Strengthening Medicare’ offered no new ideas and was instead an Orwellian political exercise in which politicians say preserve when they actually mean privatize, and strengthen when they mean slash. 

Republicans in the House envision a future in which millions of seniors will lose their guaranteed Medicare benefits in favor of a privatized CouponCare system in which they receive a government coupon to try and buy private insurance. Millions of seniors in Medicaid will lose their benefits due to block-granting to states without providing the resources to pay for it.  The repeal of the Affordable Care Act will leave tens of millions without insurance and strip benefits from seniors in Medicare.  

The Republican leadership has offered no plans to improve benefits in Medicare or make reforms to reign in the skyrocketing price of drugs and healthcare costs system wide.  Instead, the GOP vision for seniors in Medicare is they must just do more with less. Stagnant wages are grinding away at the middle class’s ability to save for retirement.  Many employers have significantly scaled back or eliminated the traditional retirement benefits offered to their employees.  As a result, current and future retirees simply cannot afford proposals to cut benefits, raise the eligibility age or privatize the program.”...Max Richtman, NCPSSM President/CEO

While the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee promoted destroying traditional Medicare in favor of a fully privatized system during today’s Congressional hearing, their GOP colleagues are moving a budget through Congress that would make that plan reality.

The House budget would cut Social Security and Medicare by $463 billion over 10 years, while cutting Medicaid and other health programs by $1.028 trillion, not including the Affordable Care Act.  The GOP budget protects the wealthiest Americans and big corporations from any tax increases while imposing massive spending cuts on average Americans and their families.

Max Richtman’s full testimony as submitted to the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee is here.  

USA Today Gets it All Wrong on Social Security

Opinion editors at USA Today wrote an editorial today that, unfortunately, read much like the billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby’s standard news release, loaded with crisis rhetoric and a core misunderstanding about how the Social Security Trust Fund is designed.  All to build the case for cutting already modest benefits in Social Security.

The good news is that, unlike many newspapers, USA Today does have a standard policy of offering rebuttals, as they did to our President/CEO, Max Richtman.  You can read USA Today’s call for benefit cuts in their OpEd here

And this is NCPSSM’s rebuttal.  Please take a moment to comment on these articles and share Max’s rebuttal to help journalists understand why strengthening Social Security benefits is so important to working Americans when they retire.


There’s No Reason for Benefit Cuts: Opposing View

Social Security’s impending doom has been foretold since before the first benefit check was ever delivered. The crisis calls are familiar:

“Social Security is bankrupt!”

“The trust fund isn’t real!”

“We have to cut benefits!”

The truth is very different. Social Security remains strong and will be able to pay full benefits until 2034. After that, there will still be enough income coming into the program to pay 79% of all benefits. But with an average monthly benefit of just $1,300, most beneficiaries cannot afford a 21% benefit cut, and that’s why Congress must pass modest reforms, as it has many times before.

Doing nothing is not an option. However, in this hyper-partisan environment where cutting benefits is worn as a bad

ge of courage with little thought to what those cuts actually mean to working Americans, it’s virtually impossible to engage in a meaningful debate.

Raising the retirement age, cutting the cost-of-living adjustment, privatization and means testing are all benefit cut proposals touted by the billion dollar anti-entitlement lobby and its supporters in Congress as the best ways to close Social Security’s shortfall. The American people support an entirely different approach. Poll after poll, including an important public survey by the National Academy of Social Insurance, show that large bipartisan majorities want to improve benefits and are willing to pay more to stabilize and strengthen the program.

There is no reason for Social Security benefit cuts that would force vulnerable Americans to bear an even greater financial burden than they already do. The fiscal woes of this nation are not due to this worker-funded program, which currently has $2.8 trillion in its trust fund.

Numerous proposals languishing in Congress would extend Social Security’s solvency while also improving benefits by lifting the payroll tax cap, adopting a cost-of-living adjustment for the elderly, expanding the minimum benefit and boosting benefits overall. These are reasonable reforms that deserve consideration.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare.

USA Today Permalink here




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