Social Security is a model government program, financed by and supporting working families in the event of retirement, disability, and death. It is administered in a wise and cost-effective manner. Social Security can only pay out what it has in its coffers. It cannot spend more than it has. Now, it’s time to build on its proven success.
In August 1953, President Eisenhower proposed an expansion of Social Security, telling Congress that “Retirement systems, by which individuals contribute to their own security according to their respective abilities . . .are but a reflection of the American heritage of sturdy self-reliance which has made our country strong and kept it free . . . The Social Security program furnishes, on a national scale, the opportunity for our citizens, through . . .self-reliance, to build the foundation for their security.”
Contrary to what you might hear from some pundits, our nation can afford our current level of Social Security. In fact, we can afford a greatly expanded Social Security. America is the wealthiest country in the world. The question of whether to expand Social Security is simply about our priorities, not about whether we have the funds to do so.
Congress and the President should agree with President Nixon that “the retired, the disabled and the dependent [beneficiaries of Social Security] never again bear the brunt of inflation. The way to prevent future unfairness is to attach the benefit schedule to the cost of living.” And, in 1972, Congress passed legislation to index Social Security in order to prevent inflation from eroding its earned benefits. Unfortunately, while in theory Social Security’s benefits should not erode over time, in practice they do.
The inflation adjustment measure for Social Security does not comport with the spending patterns of older adults and people with disabilities. People who receive Social Security tend to spend more on health care, whose costs have been rising far faster than overall inflation. As a result, while costs for Social Security beneficiaries have risen in the last year, there is no Social Security cost of living adjustment in 2016. The formula needs to change. And, there are some bills in Congress that would change it.
Historically, Republicans and Democrats alike have worked together to improve and expand Social Security. President Reagan signed into law the Social Security Amendments of 1983 and spoke about “our nation’s ironclad commitment to Social Security.” It’s time that Congress pass Social Security legislation which expands benefits while requiring the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share. That should, reassure Americans, as Reagan said, “that America will always keep the promises made in troubled times a half a century ago.”
It is time for Social Security beneficiaries to receive a raise and for the wealthiest Americans to start paying their fair share. If you agree, sign this joint Social Security Works and Credo Action petition.
Watch Robert Reich explain why we can afford to expand Social Security. Click here to learn about why claiming Social Security benefits early disproportionately hurts people with low incomes. Click here to read why higher Social Security benefits helps memory and mental functioning for older adults.