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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Let's Increase Social Security Benefits

Two or three or four years ago or maybe more (you know how hard it is track time in old age when it starts moving so much faster) I first came across the idea that Social Security benefits should not only not be cut, they should be increased.

Even though I was aware that the traditional three-legged stool of retirement – Social Security, personal savings, employer pension - had been wobbly for a long time and only Social Security was still viable, I didn't believe the political climate was anywhere near ready for such a radical step. In fact, I believed any politician mentioning it would be laughed out of the room.

And that's pretty much what happened back then. No longer.

Earlier this year, Senator Tom Harkin [D – IA] introduced The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 which includes three major steps to improve the benefit:

  1. Increase current payments by about $70 a month
  2. Change the cost-of-living (COLA) adjustment to more closely track real costs of elders
  3. Scrap the salary cap

As one of the bill's supporters, Senator Sherrod Brown [D-OH], told Greg Sargent last month,

“There are two fundamental numbers that make this a moral case for Democrats to make...One is that a third of seniors rely on Social Security for virtually their entire income. The other is that more than half of seniors rely on Social Security for significantly more than half their income.”

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren also supports Harkin's bill as do Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and elders' stalwart Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont).

Just two weeks ago or so, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman jumped on the bandwagon with a stirring column in support of the movement although he is cautious about timing:

”Realistically,” he concluded, “Social Security expansion won’t happen anytime soon. But it’s an idea that deserves to be on the table — and it’s a very good sign that it finally is.”

Maybe sooner than Krugman thinks. Political activist and blogger Jan Adams alerted me to another good sign. Last week, two-term Montana lieutenant-governor John Bohlinger, Jr. announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 2014 for Montana's U.S. Senate seat, to succeed the retiring Max Baucus.

Bohlinger is making Social Security expansion a big part of his campaign:

”Current Social Security benefits are puny and we can easily fix that by lifting the cap,” he says. “Let's expand Social Security benefits. It is smart economics and the morally correct action.”

He has made his first campaign video. Take a look:

Bohlinger is a lifelong politician having served three terms in the Montana House of Representatives and two in the Montana State Senate. Over the years, he has run as both a Republican and Democrat.

I don't know enough about Bohlinger or Montana politics to know if he is a viable candidate but as Jan noted in her email, he is someone for us elders to keep our eyes on and to support.

And maybe he is a harbinger of more like him to come.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: The Recipe

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post



Thanks again for all the research you do so that we can stay informed on Social Security and all the other important issues you discuss every day.

I'm not sure we tell you this often enough.

The easiest thing to fix now is get rid of the salary cap. Then, when the money starts rolling in, they can decide what else they must do, something, I'm afraid to say, will not happen in my lifetime.

I think the volatility of the stock market has become much more apparent to those who at one time considered the concept of privatizing social security as a good thing. A closer look by those in the 35-56 years old age group now see that their retirement advantages from a private pension will not suffice to meet their needs.

This of course makes social security benefits more appealing to them and thus for the need to increase, not decrease them.

Any increase would be appreciated. The COLA hasn't kept up. And this year my Medicare premium and copays increased more than my SS benefits did -- a net loss for 2014. Unnerving, to say the least.

That 3 legged stool is pretty shakey! Many of us did save and had expectations that our employer would provide the promised retirement income, it turned out that Social Security was the only leg that was really steady. Few have guaranteed retirement benefits and even less have the ability to save in the present economy. My kids are pretty sure they will have to work until they die.

Increasing Social Security benefits is an idea whose time has come. It will not happen in my lifetime, but it's a start in the right direction and I thank all of the politicians and pundits who have brought attention to it. For my children's sake I hope it happens soon.

Yes! Yes, yes, and again yes. Ultimately this will be come a "why didn't it happen sooner?" issue. Unfortunately for those of us who rely on SS, that time won't come soon enough.

If by "scrap the salary cap" you mean not the salary cap affecting 62-66-year-old beneficiaries, but the one on the payroll tax, then I'm all for it. Dunno about the rest, seems kind of unrealistic, but you'd think they'd at least raise the benefit enough to cover the increase in the Medicare premium, wouldn't you?

This is great news. Along with Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All legislation, this would bring the US a long way toward catching up with the rest of the world.

These bills will take some time to pass, but I'm reminded of the Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

I think Social Security should start at birth. By 18, you'd have enough to live on frugally, and everybody would have a stake to start life on.

Hi Ronni,

A moment before reading your reflections on Social Security, I saw comments from a blogger with a different take on the issue. He wants more taxes and fewer benefits -- for himself, not everyone!) -- and explains why. Take a look? http://bit.ly/18CKRtR
Thanks, Trevor

Hi Ronni,

Thanks for this article. I haven't thought at all about the fact that Social Security benefits should be increased. I've only thought about retaining what seniors have because there are so many attacks on the Social Security benefits from the right.

Social Security is so important for seniors. My parents didn't have a pension because they were farmers and later my dad was a farm manager. My mom ran apple thinning crews and sorted and packed apples.

They saved $10,000 and bought a house in the late 1960s. When they couldn't work anymore, they lived on their Social Security.

They talked about Social Security saving them from the Poor House. When they were young, people were actually taken there when they ran out of money, my parents told me.


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