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Let's Chat About Social Security

Posted May 24 2011 8:30am

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category_bug_politics.gif Not that we didn't know this, but a new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling demonstrates overwhelming public support for leaving Social Security as it is. As reported at TPM ,

“The polls were conducted in the home states of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), John Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012.

In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Social Security, which is the retirement program for the elderly?

• Ohio: 16% support, 80% oppose
• Missouri: 17% support, 76% oppose
• Montana: 20% support, 76% oppose
• Minnesota: 23% support, 72% oppose

“Each poll surveyed more than a thousand people [and] has a margin of error of about 3 percent."

The same question substituting Medicare spending for Social Security received similar results in the four states and all national polls are in line with these. The Republicans, who want to balance the budget on the backs of elders, are so out of touch with the public on this issue that you'd think they had recently arrived from Alpha Centauri.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities , using 2008 census data, without Social Security

“...19.8 million more Americans would be poor. Although most of those kept out of poverty by Social Security are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”

Due to the Great Recession, Social Security has become even more critical to living a modest old age. Consider these points:

• Trillions of dollars in personal life savings disappeared – poof – in the crash of 2008. Many retirees and those near retirement age have not recouped those losses and some never will.

• Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure – some due to bank fraud. Those who hung on have seen the value of their homes drop dramatically and prices are still sinking. Elders who intended to sell to downsize in retirement no longer have that choice.

• Unemployment is officially at 9 percent but twice that when you count those who are so discouraged they have stopped seeking work and others who are underemployed or working part time. A large percentage of those will never return to their chosen careers and will never again reach the salaries they were earning when they were laid off.

(For a devastating story on trying to find work, especially if you are older than even 35, read this .)

• Add to all this – something that is forgotten in the public political discourse – that salaries have been stagnant for more than a dozen years. Many have dropped.

According to salary surveys, if I tried to find a job now in the internet field where I was working at the end of my career, I could expect to make no more than half what I was earning then in 2004.

• That means that beginning long before the Great Recession, average workers were already set up to receive a lower Social Security benefit than workers of my generation who enjoyed a healthy, growing economy for most of our adult lives.

So never has Social Security, modest as it is, been as important to the well being of elder Americans than it is now - “elder Americans” being, in addition to you and me, everyone who will become an elder one day.

And I don't want to hear from the Alan Simpsons and Paul Ryans of our political class that people can save more money for their old age. With the median income at $46,326 and given the prices of housing, gas, food, health coverage, kids' shoes, etc., there is nothing left at the end of each month to save.

But there are places to cut the federal budget – you know them as well as I do. It is long past time to get out of those wars that are at an impasse. (By the way, weren't we supposed to be out of Libya within a few days?)

We can tax the wealthy who pay a lower rate than average workers because their dividends are taxed at a lower rate than wages. No matter how many times rich politicians say it, rich people do not create jobs. They never have.

If corporations want to be treated as persons (as they are, by law), they can damned well pay taxes as real people. We can get rid of those loopholes that leave GE and others paying no tax on billions of net revenue. And outlaw tax havens too.

Paul Ryan's budget is now dead (including Medicare vouchers) and what those surveys tell us is that unless all the Republican representatives and senators up for re-election next year are planning to join their former colleagues as corporate executives and lobbyists, cuts to Social Security and Medicare will not be resurrected as budget balancers until after the 2012 election.

For awhile, we can relax a little.

One further point: Absent a jobs program from the federal government, Social Security is the best economic stimulus we have. Nearly every cent is immediately spent in support of local communities through the costs of housing, food, taxes, health care and all the other necessities of life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ann Berger: Quilt of Silk

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