Politics

Those who should pay more … the failure of politicians and undermining the foundation of Social Security

Social Security was a simple concept; workers and their employers would contribute into an insurance program over a working life and upon retirement the program provided a minimum degree of security. It was not to be funded by government, it was to be funded proportional to the benefits and it was to be based on wages earned, not on the savings of individuals, even some individuals.

If Congress over the decades since 1934 had stuck to that goal, indeed if they had just acted upon the urgings of each years Trustees reports to address funding shortfalls, we wouldn’t be having more political discussions about Social Security. We certainly would not be considering alternatives that turn the program into welfare.

“I intend to increase the funding that’s going into Social Security by looking at those who can and should be paying more.”  That means raising the cap or changing the definition of income that is taxed according to Clinton.

Today our politicians delight in pitting one group of Americans against another and in the process switch responsibility to somebody, anybody else. “those who can and should pay more…?” That is not the way Social Security is supposed to work. Every American who expects to collect benefits should pay what is necessary to fund those benefits. 

Over the years the workforce, the work we do, demographics and actuarial assumptions have all changed. If our politicians had only made small incremental changes in contribution rates as necessary, we could have honored the original intent of the law. Instead they focused more on the votes they wanted and needed. As a consequence, one hundred years after enactment of the law it will be unable to pay full earned benefits. 

Social insurance, as conceived by President Roosevelt, would address the permanent problem of economic security for the elderly by creating a work-related, contributory system in which workers would provide for their own future economic security through taxes paid while employed. Thus it was an alternative both to reliance on welfare and to radical changes in our capitalist system. – From the history of Social Security

The new social insurance program the Committee on Economic Security (CES) was designing in 1934 was different than welfare in that it was a contributory program in which workers and their employers paid for the cost of the benefits–with the government’s role being that of the fund’s administrator, rather than its payer. This was very important to President Roosevelt who signaled early on that he did not want the federal government to subsidize the program–that it was to be “self-supporting.” He would eventually observe: “If I have anything to say about it, it will always be contributed, both on the part of the employer and the employee, on a sound actuarial basis. It means no money out of the Treasury.” -History of Social Security

“It is impossible under any social insurance system to provide ideal security for every individual. The practical objective is to pay benefits that provide a minimum degree of social security—as a basis upon which the worker, through his own efforts, will have a better chance to provide adequately for his individual security.” –– From the Report of the Social Security Board recommending the changes which were embodied in the 1939 Amendments.

Once again politicians are diverting our focus away from responsibility for their own failures and finding the traditional scapegoats among those who they have decided don’t pay their fair share. Like decades before, the last eight years have been wasted with no action taken on Social Security.

The solvency and sustainability of Social Security is the responsibility of every working American in proportion to their earnings which determine their anticipated benefits. No more and no less. Your elected officials don’t have the guts to tell you the truth. 

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3 replies »

  1. The reason we are in this mess with the Social Security system is the government has failed to raise the SS tax on every worker and employer, to fund the benefits for future retirees. The SS tax rate has not been raised since 1990 but the benefits continue to grow. Simple math shows that a slow increase in the tax rate from 6.2 % to 10% over the next 20 years will fix the shortage. A .2% increase per year in the tax rate would only add $50 per year in tax on each $25,000 in income. This is something we can afford to do.

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  2. Why isn’t Social Security and a “fix” not being discussed during the debates? It seems like Seniors have the right to know which candidate is going to do what instead of hearing the mud slinging that we hear during the debates. I don’t know why not one of the debates have even mentioned Social Security. As an Independent voter, and a senior, it would be advantageous to seniors to hear their views.

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