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Social Security: What's in It for Younger People? an interactive quiz
Una Prueba: ¿Que Le Ofrece El Seguro Social A Las Personas Jovenes?
Social Security: What's In It for Younger People   [pdf]

Packet Introduction--English [September 2012]; Español [August 2001]
Facts about Social Security 2014, NJFAC

Richard Du Boff, "Social Security Is Not in 'Crisis'"(rev.)
Jean TD Bandler, "Social Security Isn't Just for Seniors"
National Council of Women's Organizations, "Women and Social Security"
See also IWPR's Women and Social Security

Helen Lachs Ginsburg and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, "Social Security and Minorities"How To Fight the Phony Social Security "Crisis"
Social Security Flyers [1] [2]

A Social Security Packet: Summary and Update[rev. 9/12]

With the memory of the Great Depression still fresh, President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 envisioned a second, Economic Bill of Rights that included: "the right to a useful and remunerative job," "the right to adequate medical care," and "the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age and sickness and accident and unemployment." In Roosevelt’s view, the political and civil rights granted by the U. S. Constitution were compromised in the absence of economic rights.

Today, when national resources make it economically possible to move far beyond the visions of that earlier time, Social Security, the government program that has extended modest security to generations of Americans of all ages, is under attack. Unable to destroy a successful and popular program directly, conservatives, who have fought it since its inception in 1935, tried unsuccessfully to privatize it during the Bush Administration. Now they make the false claim that it is financially unsustainable. This argument, which began during the Clinton era, has accelerated as the government deficit rose, driven by serious recession, from which employment has still not recovered, threatened financial collapse, a thriving military budget, the Bush-era tax cuts, and a largely private medical care system, one far more expensive than those of other industrial countires, NOT Social Security. [Recessions cut tax revenues and of necessity increase expenditures, like unemployment insurance.] Surprisingly, many liberals, perhaps misinformed of the actual condition of Social Security, now believe that a crisis is inevitable unless changes are made that will one way or another reduce benefits and living standards.

These articles show that Social Security is financially sound without any changes whatsoever, that it serves a far larger population than only retirees, including many disabled and the families of deceased and disabled workers. And any changes made should expand its protections, especially as private pensions wither. [1]

The articles in this SOCIAL SECURITY PACKET:

  • Expose the phony Social Security "crisis" by showing that Social Security is fiscally sound, able to support a growing elderly population and is not a source of the deficit problem, and that the Trust Fund is safe.
  • Show how Social Security benefits the entire U. S. population, prevents poverty, and is especially important not only to the elderly but to women, minorities and other lower-wage workers.
  • Explain why reducing Social Security for future retirees is not only unjust and unwise, but is unnecessary.
  • Point out how Social Security can remain fiscally secure and be strengthened.

There Is No Social Security "Crisis": Social Security Is Fiscally Sound

The projections used by the Social Security Trustees are based on "very conservative" assumptions about economic growth--in fact rates far slower than those of the past 75 years. [from Irwin Kellner's Hofstra Economic Report, J/F 2005] Under these "intermediate " assumptions, the Trustees project that the Fund will not run out until 2033. Even then, payroll tax collections would be sufficient to pay recipients 75% of the higher benefits due then, according to the Trustees [See 2012 Annual Report of the Trustees, p.11] .

If the U.S. economy grows at the Trustees' most optimistic rate, just under 3 percent a year over the next 75 years, below the historical rate of 3.2 percent of the last 80 years, the Social Security Trust Funds will expand, reaching an estimated $4.6 trillion in 2090. [See ibid, Tables V.B2 and VI.F8]

There Is No Demographic "Crisis" [See Social Security Is Not In Crisis]

There is absolutely no demographic problem with Social Security. Those who insist there is one make what is to them an obvious connection between the falling number of workers to retirees and "inevitable" Social Security shortfalls. However, compared to times when there were many more workers per retiree, say 1960, it takes fewer farmers to grow a bushel of wheat; fewer bakers to bake our bread; fewer mechanics to make a car, and fewer technicians to build a computer. Result? Fewer workers needed to support a retiree. Were this not true, a poor country like Bangladesh, with many workers and few retirees would be far better able to support its retirees than a rich country like the US.

The ability of a country to support the population who are not of working age--the young and the elderly--depends on its productive capacity as well as the size of this dependent population. In 1960, when the United States was shouldering the responsibility for both the baby boomers and the elderly, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita was only 37% of what it is now [2011; ERP 2012, Table B–31]. At the time when the "crisis" crowd says we'll have too many dependents to take care of, this nation should be much wealthier than we were during that earlier period of high dependency.

We are wealthier because our workers, made more productive by their education and tools, produce more. It is not merely numbers of workers per dependent that count It is productivity--the output that each worker can produce--that determines our prosperity. Moreover, the baby boomers and the elderly combined were larger in proportion to the working-age population than the comparable group will be later in this century. It is absurd to think that a nation as rich as the United States cannot provide security to all.

It is not sheer numbers of workers, but their ability to produce--their productivity [output per worker] which is important to our livelihood. This is true both for producing the goods and services we need and rising productivity permitting higher wages on which taxes are levied to fund SS benefits. The policies of the last few decades do put SS at risk--the lag in productive investments at home that improve our means of production; the political failure to insist on policies that aid in ensuring that higher wages follow productivity improvements; and rising inequality, which limits the wages subject to SS taxes.

The Social Security Trust Fund Is Safe

Many conservatives, including former President Bush warn future beneficiaries that "there is no Trust Fund; just IOU's" [April 5, 2005 photo op at the Public Debt], implying that the government might renege on its debt. Yet government IOU's, held by the Chinese and other governments, foreign corporations, and foreign investors are funding our enormous trade deficit. Would we wish to convey to these bond holders that our government is an unreliable debtor? The government has never defaulted--why should it just for the Trust Fund bonds, bought with the taxes of many people too poor to pay income taxes?

Social Security Benefits and Protects the Entire Population [see Facts about Social Security 2012, Social Security Is Not Just for Seniors and Quiz:What's in it for Younger People?

Social Security benefits all age groups--young workers who have insurance for death and disability during all of their working years, retired workers, disabled workers and their dependents, and the survivors of deceased workers. Twenty million Social Security beneficiaries [2012] are not retired workers they are workers with disabilities, children of retired, disabled, and deceased workers, spouses, and care-taking parents. Children get more benefits from Social Security than from any other federal program.

  • Before Social Security, the groups that are now covered--working men and women, seniors, widows, orphans, and disabled persons--had neither insurance nor savings. Those were the days of social insecurity.
  • Social Security protects the elderly at all income levels, and for all but roughly the wealthiest one-third of seniors, is their principal income. Unlike most pensions, it is inflation-adjusted, and unlike 401k's, it lasts for the retiree's lifetime.
  • Social Security relieves adult children of much of the financial strain of supporting their aging parents and gives parents the dignity of an assured income of their own.

Social Security Prevents Poverty

Without Social Security, about 44% of all seniors [2011] would be living below the government’s official poverty level.

  • In 1959, when poverty measures began, 35% of Americans 65 and over were living below the official poverty level. Seniors were then the poorest age group in the population. Thanks largely to Social Security, the elderly are now the age group with the lowest poverty rate [about 9% in 2011].

Social Security Benefits Women, Minorities and other Low-Wage Workers [See "Women and Social Security", and "Social Security and Minorities"]

  • Because they face discrimination and often lack health care and other resources, groups such as African Americans have lower life expectancies than other groups. Consequently, they are more likely than less-disadvantaged groups to need Survivors’ benefits.
  • Women, minorities, and other lower-wage workers who are less likely to have private pensions or assets, depend more heavily on Social Security than higher-income workers. In fact, higher-wage workers, too, are increasingly likely to be without employer-financed pensions, so Social Security will become even more important for them as well.
  • Owing to more risky jobs, less access to health care, discrimination, and poverty, lower-income and minority workers have higher rates of disability. Consequently, they are more likely to depend on disability benefits than more privileged groups.[2]
  • Lower-income workers benefit from Social Security’s progressive benefit formula which replaces larger proportions of their former earnings than is the case with higher-income workers.
  • Women are less likely to have pensions than men, and if they have pensions, to have smaller ones. So women must rely on Social Security for a larger part of their retirement income. They also live longer, and thus are more likely to outlive their savings.

The Current Threat to Social Security

The Chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform [the Deficit Commission] proposed remedies to the Federal deficit that include raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for all but the poor. Obama's Transition team Social Security advisers called the Commission “a Social Security death panel.”[3] The recommendations are again being proposed as a basis for cutting the deficit.

Strengthening Social Security

Increasing public investment to maintain and increase productive capabilties, ensuring that all who want a job can have one, and ensuring that wages regain and surpass earlier peaks will provide a strong economic foundation for financing Social Security and other social programs. In short, this is the proposal of the National Jobs for All Coalition--to bring together workers needing good jobs with our unmet social needs. This is the basis for a strong, productive economy which would serve our needs and permit more generous Social Security benefits in response to the diminishing provision of private pensions. [See The case for improving Social Security.] Rising inequality, which has put more income above the FICA limit and enlarged the fraction of income received as non-taxable interest, profits and capital gains, has also restricted Trust Fund revenues.

Jobs for All at living wages is the best economic insurance for Social Security because it means more people make higher contributions and fewer people collect benefits. This is the basis for tapping the financial resources of the productive economy described above.

In addition to the economic foundation for Social Security, we need the political will to use our abundant resources for the national social and economic welfare.

SOURCE OF IMAGE: Social Security Defenders

Prepared by Social Security Task Force: Robb Burlage, Eleanor Kremen, Helen Lachs Ginsburg, Laura Piil, June Zaccone, Editor, Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Chair, July 18, 2001
Revision and update September 2012 by June Zaccone. Thanks to Helen Ginsburg for her comments.


The program popularly known as Social Security is really Old Age, Survivors’, Disability, and Health Insurance (OASDHI). In 1935, during the Great Depression, Congress passed the Social Security Act which initiated not only Old Age Insurance but Unemployment Insurance and several public assistance programs as well. When he signed the bill for which he and other New Dealers had campaigned vigorously, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that had no other bill been passed by Congress, "this session would be regarded as historic for all time." Before Social Security, much of the population had neither savings, private insurance nor public provision for old age, unemployment, disability, and the loss of a family breadwinner

From the beginning Old Age Insurance has been financed by a payroll tax or a percentage of workers’ wages that is shared equally by employers and employees (except in the case of the self-employed who pay the combined tax). Financing the program with the contributions of workers and their employers has meant that the beneficiaries of Social Security feel that they or their breadwinners have contributed to their benefits rather than that they are getting charity or welfare. However, because the tax is levied on a portion of workers’ wages, individuals with employment income over the maximum ($106,800 in 2010) pay smaller portions of their earnings than those below the maximum. Whereas the Social Security tax is regressive, the benefit is progressive; that is, the benefits of lower-wage workers, though smaller than higher earners, are a larger proportion of their former earnings. Social Security is a federal program that is uniform throughout the 50 states.

Social Security began modestly with a retirement benefit for workers in some industries. Initially, it excluded such occupations as agriculture and domestic service in which large proportions of African Americans and women were employed. Within a few years Social Security began to expand and to cover more of the population. In 1939, survivors of deceased workers—spouses and orphans—were included, and in the 60 years of its existence Social Security has grown to include disability and health insurance (Medicare) and to provide for additional dependents such as disabled children and divorced spouses. Whereas many workers and their dependents were excluded from the limited, initial benefits, nearly all workers and their dependents are now covered.

Social Security is the largest social program in the United States. In 2011, over $700 billion dollars in benefits were paid to 55 million people.

[1] "The share of workers with traditional pensions is down to about 15 percent. The rest either have no pensions or have 401k plans that are not pensions at all. 401k's, like IRAs and Keoghs, are tax-sheltered savings plans. More than half of people between 55 and 64 have no pension and no retirement plan at all other than Social Security." Kuttner, 4/13

[2] "The risk of disability or early death is much greater than most people realize. About 39 percent of young men and 31 percent of young women will die or become disabled before they reach retirement age, according to the Social Security actuaries. Social Security’s life and disability insurance helps prevent poverty among families that suffer these losses. For example, a 30-year-old worker earning about $27,000 to $33,000 in 2008 with a spouse and two young children had Social Security disability and life insurance protection valued at over $450,000 each. " Social Security Is an Anti-Poverty Program, By Ben Veghte &Virginia P. Reno, National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), 5/10

[3] As mentioned before, the deficit results from continuing joblessness, a military budget approximating those of the rest of the world combined, and the Bush tax cuts. These, however, are unlikely to be on the table. The Administration appointed the two co-chairs: former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson, and Erskine Bowles. Simpson described seniors writing to him about Social Security as “These old cats 70 and 80 years old ....who live in gated communities and drive their Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount." Bowles, who is a director of Morgan Stanley, a Wall Street bank saved by the taxpayer bailout, says, "We’re going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there." As Clinton's Chief of Staff, he "cut a deal with Newt Gingrich that would have partially privatized Social Security in the 1990's if the Monica Lewinsky scandal hadn't derailed their plans." Eleven of the 18 Deficit Commission members are known supporters of privatization.

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