Incoming Republicans' attacks on Social Security is not the first, but it is a serious threat. Their fear-based propaganda is a tactic used to justify privatizing a system that has supported retirees, people with disabilities and dependents for 81 years.
According to Social Security Administration statistics this year, nearly nine out of 10 individuals age 65 and older receive Social Security benefits. Social Security brings 8.5 million elderly women out of poverty. Social Security benefits represent about 34 percent of the income of the elderly.
Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 48 percent of married couples and 71 percent of unmarried persons receive 50 percent or more of their income from Social Security. Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 21 percent of married couples and about 43 percent of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income. Social Security is one of the largest programs for children, benefitting 3.2 million young Americans. Social Security covers 171 million workers.
Moreover, 51 percent of the workforce in private industry has no private pension coverage, and 31 percent of workers report that they or their spouses have no savings set aside specifically for retirement.
So why would House Majority Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Sen. Bob Dole dies at 98 No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Juan Williams: Pelosi shows her power MORE (R-Wisc.) and fellow Republicans want to jeopardize a program so vital to women, children, seniors and people with disabilities? Why propose privatizing Social Security?
Social Security has been a target of the Republican Party from the moment the legislation was introduced in 1935. It is a pot of money they covet to allow Wall Street access to the Social Security Trust Fund by diverting current payroll contributions into stocks and bonds, mutual funds, 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). These expensive private accounts are subject to the whims of the stock market and would help Wall Street reap large management fees if they are taken from the Social Security Trust Fund and the account holders.
Various terms have been used to disguise the plans. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) position is, “Essentially it doesn't matter if you call the concept ‘privatization,’ ‘personalization’ or anything else—diverting Social Security revenues into individual accounts shifts risk to the individual and hurts the financial status of Social Security itself.”
Wall Street billionaires like Blackstone Group co-founder Peter G. Peterson have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting cuts to Social Security. Peterson convenes regular “fiscal summits” in his quest to cut benefits. This year, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpBiden heading to Kansas City to promote infrastructure package Trump calls Milley a 'f---ing idiot' over Afghanistan withdrawal First rally for far-right French candidate Zemmour prompts protests, violence MORE's policy advisor Sam Clovis attended Peterson’s summit. In his 2016 campaign, Trump promised to protect Social Security, although in the past he has called the program a Ponzi scheme.
Another argument for privatizing Social Security has been that it contributes to the national debt. This argument is simply false. Social Security has not contributed one penny to our national deficit. Funds are derived from payroll taxes and placed into two trust funds: the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Fund (OASI) and the Disability Insurance Fund (DI).
Social Security Administration documents show that Social Security asset reserves can pay out every benefit owed to every eligible American until 2034. That is when trustees project after that it is about three-quarters financed. However, the program could be secured indefinitely with raising the Social Security payroll tax cap. If the cap, currently at $127,200, is raised on all incomes over $250,000 a year, the Social Security Trust Fund would extend the program for the next 50 years. The wealthiest 6 percent not now taxed on their incomes at that level would then contribute their fair share, like the 94 percent of us paying Social Security tax on all our incomes.
At age 75, I am one of the 71 percent whose Social Security is half of my income available to pay rent, buy food, and cover medical and other expenses. I belong to the Gray Panthers, a national organization of networks confronting ageism and defending our social safety nets. In 2005, we united a broad coalition to stop President George W. Bush’s plans to privatize Social Security.
We also reached out to younger workers and students to dispel the lie that they would not have benefits at their retirement age. Their benefits would be guaranteed by raising the cap on wealthier incomes, not by privatizing Social Security. Privatizing with reliance on 401(k)s put their retirements at risk. If the markets are down when our children retire, the money gambled on Wall Street could leave them with less retirement money, reminding them that from 1999 to 2003, 401(k) accounts of people near retirement dropped 25 percent in value.
Americans across all generations, including members in both Democrat and Republican parties, agree that Social Security benefits should not be reduced. Expanding benefits is favored by 70 percent of 18 to 29 year olds, 65 percent of 30 to 45 year olds, 76 percent of 46 to 65 year olds and 70 percent of Americans over 65, according data from Public Policy Polling.
The next administration should listen to Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works, who said, “As divided as our country is in many respects, there are some fundamental values that unite us, including rewarding hard work and caring for our parents, children, and neighbors. Social Security embodies those values, so it is no surprise that Americans of all stripes are united around expanding Social Security.”
Patricia Jackson is a community activist and fellow with The Op-Ed Project.
The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.