Who’s your real friend?
You probably either watched or read about the impromptu exchange at the recent State of the Union address between President Biden and congressional Republicans concerning Social Security.
Did the rare display of politicians apparently in agreement that Social Security is “not to be touched” give you goosebumps — or chills?
I ask it that way because I firmly believe that any politician who pledges not to touch Social Security is not one who loves seniors, but rather one who disdains the more than 65 million people who are currently receiving benefits and the even larger number of Americans who will be expecting them in the future.
We have all known for decades that Social Security has been heading towards “insolvency” around the year 2030, give or take a few. The retirement of the baby boom generation (the last of whom will hit 60 in 2024) is part of the reason, but so is the rising longevity of Americans in general, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine.
You see, while politicians will tell you that Social Security is “your” money that you paid into the system — implying that it simply needs to be withdrawn from some bank or other — this is not literally the case and never has been.
There is no huge government pension plan where the Social Security taxes you and your employers have been paying since you got your first paycheck get invested and grow over decades until you finally get to claim them in retirement.
Instead, the wages of current workers are being taxed now to pay benefits to today’s retirees, just as they have been since 1935, when Social Security came into being.
The problem is, in 1935 there were 22 workers paying into the system for every retiree collecting benefits. Today, there are fewer than 3.
That’s a demographic fact no politician can afford to ignore: The smaller generations that followed the baby boom are carrying the burden of paying for the boomers’ (and their elders’) retirement.
Add to that the (generally) growing lifespan of each generation, and the problem we have long known was heading this way is now at our doorstep.
At the Beacon 50+ Expo in 2011, our keynote speaker was Charles Blahous, a public trustee of Social Security, who explained clearly that the popular program was heading toward insolvency if it wasn’t fixed, and fixed soon, by Congress.
Now, insolvency doesn’t mean Social Security will disappear. But it does mean that, as presently operating, all beneficiaries will see a cut of about 25% in their benefits starting in 2030 or thereabouts.
Blahous also made the point that, for every year Congress kicks the can down the road, the cost to fix the program — and the pain it will cause — will grow.
Ten years later, in 2021, we presented another expert at the virtual Beacon 50+ Expo, Dr. Mark Warshawsky, a former deputy commissioner of Social Security. He brought us up to date with not only more dire projections, but also a dozen potential solutions to the problem.
Of course, any of the most likely steps could be politically damaging: risking the ire of recipients (who might get lower cost-of-living increases or wait longer to qualify), of workers (who might see more of their paychecks withheld), of employers (who would have to match their employees’ contributions), and of taxpayers (who might find their taxes go up).
If each of these constituencies were asked to bear part of the cost to help Social Security fulfill its future commitments, no one group or person would have to suffer inordinately.
So, are we hearing voices among our nation’s leaders saying we owe this to older Americans? Are they weighing the pros and cons of the multifarious ways they can tweak the program to keep it solvent?
No. On both sides of the aisle, so-called leaders are grandstanding on television and in the press, preening before the cameras and loudly braying, “We won’t touch Social Security.”
A plague on both their houses! In order to preserve their coveted positions in Congress, nearly all politicians today are claiming to be your friend when, in fact, they are guaranteeing you (and your children, probably) will suffer serious financial harm through their immature behavior.
They need to get a spine and sit down rationally to discuss the many different ways — ways that have been identified clearly over the years — to correct the course of Social Security and not leave millions of older adults with reduced checks.
What are they afraid of? You. Voters.
So how can you help?
For one thing, talk amongst yourselves, and educate others about what’s really needed to preserve this essential program for us and future generations. The program isn’t going to fix itself.
Second, I would urge you to contact your congressional representatives and tell them they need to take action, now, to set Social Security on a sound fiscal path for the future.
And be sure to add that you won’t kick them out of office for doing so. In fact, you’ll only kick them out of office for NOT doing so!