Infrastructure is not the only thing that’s aging in America. Every day, 10,000 Americans turn 65. And like countless communities and across the U.S., our growing senior population would also greatly benefit from transformational investments in our nation’s infrastructure.
That’s because investing in our infrastructure, as envisioned in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan, would give a big boost to the program most seniors and disabled workers rely upon for income — Social Security. Here’s how: the president’s proposal is designed to create millions of new, higher-paying jobs for American workers. Since wage-earners contribute to Social Security with every paycheck, the revenue generated from these new jobs would significantly extend the solvency of the trust fund, currently projected to be depleted in 2035. This isn’t mere speculation. The Congressional Research Service reports that job growth of the kind generated by an infrastructure program could “significantly impact the financial status of Social Security.”
The strengthening of the program’s finances would reassure future retirees — and take some wind out of the sails of “entitlement reformers” who claim that future Social Security benefits must be cut in order to save the program. Millions of additional workers paying into Social Security, who’ve long been stunted by a lack of solid, middle class jobs, could also improve the worker-to-retiree ratio, which would add further stability to the program.
Not only would the program’s overall outlook brighten, workers could be eligible for higher Social Security benefits when they retire. Social Security benefits are calculated based on lifetime wages. Higher wages and longer work history can increase workers’ monthly retirement benefits (and the program’s progressive formula would mean higher benefits for those on the lower rungs of the income ladder, as well). This could boost the average benefit from today’s modest $18,500 per year, which is only a few thousand dollars above the federal poverty line. Increased benefits are essential to supporting future retirees. Research indicates they will rely upon their Social Security checks for income even more than today’s seniors do.
The infrastructure plan would help remedy retirement inequities, too, by presenting new income opportunities for women, communities of color, and non-college educated workers who have historically received less money from Social Security. According to a recent report by Brookings entitled, How Federal Infrastructure Investment Can Put America to Work, many of these lower-wage workers have struggled to advance in the labor market because of “waning job quality and economic mobility,” including “declining and uneven access to development and advancement opportunities.” Better wages and steady employment rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure can give disadvantaged workers a foothold into the middle class — of which Social Security has been the bedrock for more than 85 years.
The president’s plan would also make an historic investment in home and community-based services (HCBS), which would bolster the caregiving workforce and help millions of seniors and people with disabilities to receive long-term care in the comfort of their homes and communities. HCBS is considered safer than nursing home care, with better mental and physical health outcomes. The plan includes $400 billion dollars to provide Medicaid HCBS for seniors who otherwise would have to wait as long as five years to receive the long-term care services they need at home.
Seniors will benefit from the infrastructure plan in other life-changing ways. The American Jobs Plan includes sorely-needed funds to improve public transportation, housing, and high-speed internet access. For too many of today’s seniors, these basics are inaccessible, unaffordable, or both. Investments in these fundamental areas can improve older Americans’ well-being and keep them connected to the wider world, which is especially important in our rural communities where many Americans are aging in place.
There is little doubt that this moment presents a historic opportunity to ‘go big’ on infrastructure in the broadest possible sense. President Biden understands that rebuilding our country in the wake of the pandemic means lifting up society’s most vulnerable members, including and especially seniors. As the president’s blueprint is crafted into actual legislation, we want to be clear: Investing in our aging infrastructure is not just about better bridges and bus service, but also about investing in our seniors’ health, well-being, and dignity. That’s a return on investment we can all get behind.
Peter DeFazio represents Oregon’s 4th District in the U.S. Congress and chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Max Richtman is President and CEO of the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.