Opinion

Championing the need for Social Security | As It Turns Out

A study recently hit the headlines finding that nearly half of Americans die in poverty. This study, instead of concentrating on entering retirement, actually looked at retirement right up to its finale.

The economic study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (No. 17824) found “that a substantial fraction of persons die with virtually no financial assets — 46 percent with less than $10,000 — and many of these households have no housing wealth.”

The study continues, “In addition, this group is disproportionately in poor health.” Although “many of these households may be deemed to have been well-prepared for retirement,” the study found that “they would have little capacity to pay for unanticipated needs such as health expenses or other financial shocks.”

What are some issues involved in retirement poverty?

Pensions: There has been a severe drop in pensions.

Economy: Seniors also experience our weak economy and attendant inflation costs.

Home equity: The housing crash meant seniors could no longer rely on their fall-back source of assets in retirement.

401(k) and IRAs: Both rely on the risky market fluctuations.

Health care costs: Health naturally deteriorates with age. Medical expenses keep rising, as well as healthcare costs.

Not surprisingly, the bureau study found that these seniors rely almost entirely on government safety net programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid once their retirement nest eggs have been used up.

Misinformation on Social Security is rampant.

Debate continues, sometimes underhandedly so, whether these programs should be cut or not. Many people don’t realize that SS has already been cut in the 1983 reform package that takes effect in 2022 when the retirement age changes from 65 to 67.

Is Social Security adding to our deficit?

No. “Despite right-wing misinformation, the program that benefits 55 million seniors, disabled Americans, widows, widowers and orphans has a $2.7 trillion surplus. Social Security, which is funded by the payroll tax, has not contributed one nickel to the deficit and, according to its trustees, can pay 100 percent of all benefits owed to every eligible American for the next 21 years,” Sen. Bernie Sanders recently wrote.

Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme?

No. “Social Security is not a fraudulent criminal enterprise designed only to benefit current participants in the program. It is a legitimate government program meant to serve both current and future generations of retirees,” CNN reported after fact-checking the mean-spirited claim.

Is Social Security going bankrupt?

No. “Social Security faces a shortfall — NOT bankruptcy — a quarter of a century from now,” says New York Times’ Paul Krugman. “It’s also worth noting that even if the trust fund is exhausted and no other financing provided, Social Security will be able to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits, which would mean real benefits higher than it pays now. I don’t want to see that happen, but it’s worth keeping in perspective — especially when you look at the solutions ‘reformers’ propose.”

Is Social Security an “entitlement?” Yes, in that we “are entitled” to these benefits. Most people rightly look on Social Security as an agreement between the federal government and its citizens. Social Security and Medicare taxes are taken out of our paychecks by the federal government. Our employers contribute, as well. The federal government then promises to pay us retirement and health benefits when we are eligible.

Luckily Social Security is not the major focus in the Romney-Ryan campaign or budget cuts. Unluckily, Medicare is up for being cut back. More about the Medicare fight next time.

— Marylin Olds is an opinion columnist for the Kingston Community News. Comments are welcome at marylin.olds@gmail.com. According to AARP, Washington (this one) has nearly 850,000 residents who are 65 or older and Washington’s economy receives billions of dollars each year from Social Security benefits for retirees.

 

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