As Congress heads home for a three-week recess, the National Committee wants Senate and House members to remember that Social Security must be put on a sound financial footing for the future – without benefit cuts. In a wide-ranging interview with radio host T.J. Trout on KKOB, Albuquerque, our president and CEO, Max Richtman, laid out the case for preserving the program that keeps retirees, workers with disabilities, and their families out of poverty. Here are highlights from that interview:
The Future of the Social Security Trust Fund
Right now, if Congress takes no action, the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money in 2035, which is not that far away. That does not mean that Social Security is ‘bankrupt’ if Congress does nothing, but benefits will be reduced by about 20%. We can’t let that happen.
There are proposals in Congress that we endorse and support (most prominently, Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act) that would extend solvency many decades beyond 2035. In order to do that, the Social Security payroll wage cap will have to be adjusted.
The current cap is $142,800 annual wages. After that, there’s no payroll tax for high earners. Why? We have endorsed adjusting the cap so that annual wages exceeding $400,000 also are subject to the payroll tax. This would be consistent with President’s Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 per year.
It’s Been Nearly Thirty Years Since Social Security was Overhauled
The last time Congress dealt with Social Security was in 1983. At that time, we were not looking at an insolvency timeline of 14 years. We were looking at six months. Congress enacted changes spread out over a long period of time, which put the program on solid financial ground for several decades. This time, we shouldn’t wait until we have six months left and the situation is drastic. We need to take action much sooner.
Public Opposes Benefit Cuts
Hopefully, there will be an effort in Congress to have some bipartisan support for proposals to bring more revenue into Social Security, instead of reducing benefits. Public opinion surveys indicate that large majorities of Americans oppose benefit cuts. Hopefully, during this recess, members of Congress will hear from their constituents directly.
There’s no immediate crisis. There’s no looming bankruptcy. But 10,000 people are turning 65 every day. We project that the number of seniors will grow by more than 40 million in next ten years. And the population of people 85 and older will triple by 2050. These seniors will depend on Social Security even more than today’s do. Constituents should go to town hall meetings, and demand that their Senators and Representatives take this issue seriously.
Raising the Retirement Age is a Benefit Cut
We adamantly oppose raising the Social Security eligibility age. A later eligibility age means a reduction in lifetime benefits. We have already raised the age from 65 to 67 in the amendments that passed in 1983. We don’t need to cut benefits by raising the age again. I often hear, “But people are living longer!” That doesn’t mean they can work longer. That doesn’t mean there are jobs for them. It’s a benefit cut.
Social Security is There for Younger Adults, Too
I’d like to send a message to the younger people in your audience. Naturally, younger people care about their aging parents and grandparents having financial security. But what is often overlooked is that one-third of Social Security benefits go to non-retired individuals – including spouses, survivors, workers with disabilities, and some four million children.
In fact, if you are a 27 year-old worker with a spouse and two children, you have about $500,000-worth of life and disability insurance through Social Security. That’s why the payroll deduction on your paycheck is labeled “FICA.” It stands for Federal Insurance Contribution Act. Social Security is an insurance program for workers of all ages. It’s not just seniors who have a stake in this. It’s everybody.
What about Privatizing Social Security?
We’re opposed to privatization. The last major attempt to privatize Social Security was promulgated by President George W. Bush. The day after Bush was re-elected in 2004, he said, “I have earned political capital and I’m going to spend it on privatizing Social Security.” We practically fell out of our chairs. He embarked on a tour of the country. We followed him the best we could, spreading the message that privatization was a terrible idea. We succeeded in killing that proposal. If he had succeeded, then in 2008 when the markets crashed, any privatized Social Security accounts would have been decimated, just like 401ks. We don’t want that to happen to a stable program that has kept more Americans out of poverty than all federal programs combined.
Click here to listen to Max Richtman’s entire interview on KKOB radio.