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Let's Chat About Social Security

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category_bug_politics.gif Not that we didn't know this, but a new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling demonstrates overwhelming public support for leaving Social Security as it is. As reported at TPM,

“The polls were conducted in the home states of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), John Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012.

In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Social Security, which is the retirement program for the elderly?

• Ohio: 16% support, 80% oppose
• Missouri: 17% support, 76% oppose
• Montana: 20% support, 76% oppose
• Minnesota: 23% support, 72% oppose

“Each poll surveyed more than a thousand people [and] has a margin of error of about 3 percent."

The same question substituting Medicare spending for Social Security received similar results in the four states and all national polls are in line with these. The Republicans, who want to balance the budget on the backs of elders, are so out of touch with the public on this issue that you'd think they had recently arrived from Alpha Centauri.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using 2008 census data, without Social Security

“...19.8 million more Americans would be poor. Although most of those kept out of poverty by Social Security are elderly, nearly a third are under age 65, including 1.1 million children.”

Due to the Great Recession, Social Security has become even more critical to living a modest old age. Consider these points:

• Trillions of dollars in personal life savings disappeared – poof – in the crash of 2008. Many retirees and those near retirement age have not recouped those losses and some never will.

• Millions have lost their homes to foreclosure – some due to bank fraud. Those who hung on have seen the value of their homes drop dramatically and prices are still sinking. Elders who intended to sell to downsize in retirement no longer have that choice.

• Unemployment is officially at 9 percent but twice that when you count those who are so discouraged they have stopped seeking work and others who are underemployed or working part time. A large percentage of those will never return to their chosen careers and will never again reach the salaries they were earning when they were laid off.

(For a devastating story on trying to find work, especially if you are older than even 35, read this.)

• Add to all this – something that is forgotten in the public political discourse – that salaries have been stagnant for more than a dozen years. Many have dropped.

According to salary surveys, if I tried to find a job now in the internet field where I was working at the end of my career, I could expect to make no more than half what I was earning then in 2004.

• That means that beginning long before the Great Recession, average workers were already set up to receive a lower Social Security benefit than workers of my generation who enjoyed a healthy, growing economy for most of our adult lives.

So never has Social Security, modest as it is, been as important to the well being of elder Americans than it is now - “elder Americans” being, in addition to you and me, everyone who will become an elder one day.

And I don't want to hear from the Alan Simpsons and Paul Ryans of our political class that people can save more money for their old age. With the median income at $46,326 and given the prices of housing, gas, food, health coverage, kids' shoes, etc., there is nothing left at the end of each month to save.

But there are places to cut the federal budget – you know them as well as I do. It is long past time to get out of those wars that are at an impasse. (By the way, weren't we supposed to be out of Libya within a few days?)

We can tax the wealthy who pay a lower rate than average workers because their dividends are taxed at a lower rate than wages. No matter how many times rich politicians say it, rich people do not create jobs. They never have.

If corporations want to be treated as persons (as they are, by law), they can damned well pay taxes as real people. We can get rid of those loopholes that leave GE and others paying no tax on billions of net revenue. And outlaw tax havens too.

Paul Ryan's budget is now dead (including Medicare vouchers) and what those surveys tell us is that unless all the Republican representatives and senators up for re-election next year are planning to join their former colleagues as corporate executives and lobbyists, cuts to Social Security and Medicare will not be resurrected as budget balancers until after the 2012 election.

For awhile, we can relax a little.

One further point: Absent a jobs program from the federal government, Social Security is the best economic stimulus we have. Nearly every cent is immediately spent in support of local communities through the costs of housing, food, taxes, health care and all the other necessities of life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ann Berger: Quilt of Silk


I truly don't understand how republicans get any support for their budget ideas.

Republicans get support because so many people vote against their own economic interests. They fall prey to the "social issues" and "no new taxes" slogans. The Ryan plan certainly makes is easier for Dems to craft a message for middle class and elder Americans. They better make it a good message, because if Republicans win all three branches of government in 2012, the Ryan plan will happen. What a disaster that would be!

Politicians drone on & on about the need to cut entitlements. Gore was ridiculed for the SSN "lockbox" idea. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes. I would be willing to keep SSN & Medicare intact. Not for more stupid wars though.

I keep going back to that graph you posted from the budget committee (?) showing the effects of our defense spending and extension of tax cuts on the deficit. Very, very powerful. I am going to link it on my Facebook page today.

I do have one question: what exactly is "means-testing" for Social Security? Isn't there already an "upper limit" on SS?

Wouldn't it be great if the politically right wing voters would even read these articles?

Saul Friedman couldn't have said it better.

It's time we started looking out for ourselves instead of everyone else. Afterall, most of the world doesn't like us anyway.

Kathleen Noble: With means testing, a limit on benefits is imposed on people whose income is above a certain limit.

Currently, for Medicare, beneficiaries (single) with incomes above $85,000 pay more for Part B premiums than people whose income is lower. There is a higher cutoff for couples although I don't have the amount on the tip of my tongue.

Means testing, as it is being tentatively discussed in Washington lately, refers to reducing Social Security benefits to people whose income is above a certain limit.

The poll results are interesting but they do not seem to reflect the general voting. How do we get all of the 70% and higher group to realize they need to vote their opinion.

I just heard back from my email to President Obama regarding SS that I wrote back in January prior to his State of the Union address. In it he reiterated his commitment to keeping SS out of the hands of the private sector. He also says, "We are laying the foundation for all individuals to participate in workplace retirement accounts." What he seems to be blind about is that as people are laid off and squeezed out of their professions, there is not much the employers at Tasty Freeze are going to be able to do for their older workers. As you say, there will be nothing left over to save.

The link to the article on jobs that you posted brings up an important point, Ronni. One I was reflecting on last week regarding the numbers of unemployed. The jobs people are being forced into by the unemployment office so they can maintain their numbers for federally funded support are jobs that are temporary, seasonal, part-time and with no benefits. An amazing waste of human resources and tragically manipulative besides.

My only income is my not-very-big SS Disability and a laughably small SS payment from my ex. If they kill it, I will die.

I think the main reason they propose means-testing Social Security is to kill public support for Social Security. If middle class citizens can no longer count on getting anything back, support will erode and they can kill the program, which is what they want (unless they can get their hands on the funds through privatization).


I agree with a number of your points. I think that those who enjoy the benefits of sources of income outside a payroll (dividends, rents, etc.) have too long been taxed at a rate that is too low.

I also think we should get rid of subsidies to the middle class and wealthy, such as the mortgage interest deduction on the tax form.

Other loop holes can also should be closed. For too long SS and Medicare have been financed by a payroll tax, which many well-off do not pay.

Lets eliminate some of the AG subsidies to huge corporations as well as the Ethonol subsidies.

Changes do need to be made to the new health care bill, Mr Obama said so himself. How can Medicare survive if a half billion dollars is removed to subsidize general health care? Providers who accept Medicare are already receiving 80% of costs. Something needs to be changed here. Do we need more oversight, or better oversight of this program? We certainly have room for improvement I think.

I do like the idea of means-testing, however. Why should anyone who can afford to pay for it receive $$ from the government?

Hopefully, Mr Biden is correct when he says more than a trillion dollars can be cut from the budget. (WPost 5/25) We shall see if a compromise results from all the negotiation taking place this past few weeks. One can only hope.

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