By Emily Gilbert
During a week of volatility in the stock market, retirees are happily celebrating the 84th birthday of the Social Security System—a universal social insurance program that guarantees their benefits no matter what direction their 401(k) or personal investments are heading. Since 1935, Social Security has been the cornerstone of the retirement income system in this country, providing secure benefits that never quit, keeping millions of people out of poverty and helping them to maintain a basic standard of living once wages are gone.
Social Security provides unceasing stability. It not only provides a foundation of income for 47 million retired working Americans, widows, and spouses, but also provides disability benefits for people who have gotten sick or injured and can no longer work, and it provides survivors benefits to children when a working parent dies or becomes too disabled to work. Altogether, 63 million Americans receive monthly Social Security benefits they have earned. It’s the most successful social program in the country, and it shows that the government can work.
We often hear that Social Security is severely underfunded, and that it won’t be around by the time my generation retires. However, this is not true. Social Security has enough money to pay 100% of benefits for another 16 years, and even without any changes, can pay 87% of benefits for another 50.
As Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works (and Chairman of PRC’s Board of Directors!), wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times this week, this supposed “crisis” is not a crisis. Social Security has a “modest shortfall—projected to begin in 2035.” She points out in the article that “a majority of voters, regardless of political party, are willing to pay more to protect and expand Social Security” yet, despite the overwhelming support for this program, it has been over four decades since Congress last expanded the system. We face many complicated issues related to retirement security in this country, but this is one of the easiest ones to fix! There is still plenty of time for Congress to pass legislation ensuring that my generation and those that come after will receive every penny of benefits we earn.
As Nancy says in the article, there is a looming retirement income crisis in this country – she points out that only 22% of today’s workers have traditional pensions, and nearly half of those 55 and older have no retirement savings. For this reason, Social Security is only becoming more important. Fewer and fewer people are participants in workplace retirement plans, and fewer and fewer people have any retirement savings at all. For a birthday present to Social Security – and to my generation and beyond – Congress should enact legislation that restores Social Security to balance the right way, by gradually increasing revenue and increasing benefits to make it adequate for those who depend on it the most.