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In Defense of Social Security

Every American who has worked at least one job has a Social Security card and unique ID number.

Every American who has worked at least one job has a Social Security card and unique ID number.

Social Security is NOT an “entitlement”, it is an old-age insurance policy into which regular payments have been made throughout an employee’s work life. The payouts are guaranteed by the government and do not add to the deficit. It is self-sustained and paid for by today’s workers. For a history and explanation of where we are with Social Security today, please read the following post by Caroline Peterson, Summer 2015 Intern.

Social responsibility and a sense of community seem to be lost and misunderstood concepts in much of the American consciousness. Part of that could be the natural inclination of the United States to shy away from anything that doesn’t coincide with the “free-for-all” culture many Americans try to desperately to defend; however, a lot of our collective reluctance to accept social programs comes from certain myths that are perpetuated, predominantly by the very wealthy. Social Security is one of those ‘dreaded’ social programs that is often under attack.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Committee on Economic Security, headed by Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, created the Social Security Act of 1935. It was part of FDR’s New Deal, which reimagined the role of government in the economic market and in the country after the disastrous Great Depression. Social Security was established to aid certain Americans who were often pushed to the wayside and carried unfair burdens in society, such as the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, widowed women, and children with no present father. Social Security is a social insurance program protects some of the most vulnerable in American society and provides aid to those who simply cannot “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.”

Those who attack Social Security will often say that it adds to the national deficit, but that argument is clearly illogical when one considers how Social Security is actually funded—through income taxes that every working person pays into. It is an insurance system that people pay into for their entire working lives in anticipation for retirement, or as a precaution in the event tragedy strikes, such as the death of a working spouse.

Another problem that many people have with Social Security is that they believe it is going to go broke. There are three reasons why that could happen: 1) the billions of dollars President George Bush took from the Social Security fund for war; 2) the cap on earnings taxed for social security is only $118,500, letting the wealthy off the hook; and 3) the baby boomer generation outnumbers millennials, and therefore more retirees are collecting social security than there are young working people paying into it. These are not reasons to scrap Social Security. It should be simply modified to fit current economic conditions, and the super wealthy should NOT be exempt from Social Security taxes.

There have been calls to privatize Social Security and have its payouts fluctuate with the stock market. But how is this reliable and “secure’? Social Security was established to counter the effects of the most disastrous stock market crash in U.S. history; we cannot allow it to fail with the stock market when it is our safety net from stock market crashes. If payouts were made according to the fluctuations of the stock market, people could do everything right with their finances and still lose out upon their retirement because of circumstances beyond their control. There have also been efforts to raise the retirement age and force the elderly to work longer before collecting their rightful Social Security benefits, despite the elderly’s health needs and quality of life and the fact that this cheats them out of what they have been promised to receive at the end of their working lives.

When we think of our own lives, our relationship to others in society, and the reality of what it is like to live in our nation, we can clearly see why Social Security is necessary; it allows us to reap the benefits of working our entire lives and gives us comfort and a good quality of life in our old age. Likewise, when we are made vulnerable by the death of a working person in our household, or we are suddenly left unemployed, we can collect from what we have paid into in order to keep ourselves afloat. Even if there are flaws in the Social Security system, it is clear how it was an enormous step forward for our country, and one we cannot allow to be reversed.

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Caroline Peterson

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