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The 2016 Election and Social Security

As stated clearly in a new, 2016 report from the Economic Policy Insitute (EPI),

Social Security is a pillar of the American economy. It is the most effective anti-poverty program in the United States. For more than half of the over-65 population it is more than half of their income.”

Throughout this year – that is, the remaining nine months of the election campaign – you will hear a lot of talk about how Social Security is broken, bankrupt and needs to be cut or ended. None of that is true. Here is the short version of why from that EPI report:

”Social Security is self-sustaining and solvent; it is neither broken nor bankrupt. It faces a manageable shortfall over a 75-year actuarial window that is a reflection of long-term trends in the economy, whether they be good (increased life expectancy), bad (increased inequality), or simply a change from the past (declining fertility rates).”

As the campaign moves forward, first the primaries and then the general election, Social Security will become a debate football, as it always is. So, to begin, here is what the major Republican candidates have said about the program so far:

Jeb Bush wants to raise the retirement age and “encourage” 401(k) plans for young people.

Ben Carson appears to be in favor of raising the retirement age for Socia Security.

Chris Christie would raise the retirement age, cut Social Security for the wealthy and otherwise institute means testing for anyone who makes more than $80,000 per year. He says Social Security is bankrupt.

Ted Cruz would raise the retirement age and cap cost-of-living (COLA) increases. He has also suggested allowing workers to save up to $25,000 a year in special accounts.

John Kasich hasn't said much about Social Security but in a book ten years ago he appeared to believe that Social Security was insolvent.

Marco Rubio would gradually increase the retirement age, reduce the rate of growth for upper income recipients and “strengthen” the program for low income elders, but no details yet.

Donald Trump opposes both cuts to Social Security and raising the retirement age.

Just in case you don't trust me in regard to the viability of Social Security or that EPI rerport, here is another statement, this one from an expert on financial security of elders who writes for CBS Moneywatch.

”Doomsday statements about never receiving anything from Social Security or calling it a Ponzi scheme are simply off base and don't reflect the reality of how Social Security is financed.”

As you might imagine, the two remaining Democratic candidates for president have a stronger grasp than many of the Republicans on the realities of Social Security:

Hillary Clinton, on her campaign website says she opposes “closing the long-term SSA shortfall on the backs of the middle class, whether through benefit cuts or tax increases.” Some progressive groups believe this is not a strong enough statement against cuts or increases.

Bernie Sanders stands in long-time opposition to any and all SSA benefit cuts and has proposed legislation in the Senate to expand Social Security across the board.

Undoubtedly, as the field of candidates in winnowed down, the candidates will all be asked to provide more detail about their proposals on Social Security, and Medicare too.

What often amazes me – and many of you, also, if comments here over time are an indication – too many elders vote against their own best interests. So as we move deeper into election year, here are some resources for you to keep informed on Social Security. (I'll add information on Medicare in time.)

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) has just launched a new campaign website called Senior Vote 2016 where they will keep readers up to date on all candidates' positions and other news in regard to Social Security and Medicare.

They are convering not just presidential contenders, but congressional races in all the states. You can also sign up for a regular email newsletter from them. This looks to grow into a good, one-stop-shop for Social Security and Medicare election information.

Here is the home page of Senior Vote 2016.

As a couple of the Republican candidates' statements reveal, there is still a lot of belief that Social Security is on its last legs. President George Bush started this rumor back in 2005 when he barnstormed the country trying to “privatize” Social Security.

Whoever the Republican presidential candidate is, along with many Republican (and some Democratic) congressional candidates, will try to convince voters that privatization or something similar is necessary to “save Social Security,” as they like to say.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If you would like to create your own list of talking points about that, I have two more excellent sources for you.

That Economic Policty Institute report I mentioned at the top of this post is specifically written to explain and demystify Social Security to young people – too many of whom believe it won't be there for them. You can read and download it here for free (PDF). It's just as good for old people who need a refresher.

My old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Saul Friedman, who died in 2010, wrote for this blog twice a week during the last couple of years of his life. I'm so proud to have hosted his words and thoughts and his posts are as relevant today as they were then.

Here is one from Saul about Social Security that tells you in easy-to-digest chunks everything you could want to know.


Thanks, Ronni, for these both nerve-racking and reassuring comments re Social Security. I am on various progressive email lists which have pointed out repeatedly that Hillary Clinton's position on social security seems far too timid and reserved. But yesterday the Bold Progressives campaign committee made a big point of quoting Clinton's latest words on the issue, namely "'I won't cut Social Security...I'll defend it & expand it.'" They credit themselves for her "conversion," but who cares? I choose to believe her words, and once again marvel at the fact that the Democratic candidates for president BOTH are so far afield from their awful Republican counterparts. They are civilized, for one thing..
Anyway, I was very pleased to hear this.

People are confused. We don't understand why the government can spend billions on defense and foreign aid and waste billions more on unnecessary projects, and can't afford to make good on its promise to old folks and others who are in need of assistance. Any candidate, any party, will have to be able to clarify this if they hope for a victory come election time.

I'm certainly not in favor of increasing poverty among the elderly.

That said, I'm also not automatically in favor of voting my own personal best interest, either. I was brought up to believe I should vote the best interest of society as a whole, and that's what I try to do.

Most other first-world countries recognize the importance of providing resources for their elderly citizens, both for their health needs and for their everyday living. America's government seems to be moving away from providing ANY social programs for ANY of its citizens. Social Security is a program that all of us who have worked in this country have contributed to, believing in the promise of our government that when we reached a certain age we could count on receiving the benefits of the program. Unfortunately other areas of the government, particularly the military, were allowed to "borrow" funds from Social Security and have never repaid that debt. So, did our government lie to all of us?

My husband and I are totally dependent upon Social Security for our living. We had savings that were depleted by high medical costs prior to our reaching "retirement" age and loss of our jobs when the companies we worked for were purchased by other companies and our jobs became "redundant." If we lose Social Security, we will become homeless and will literally starve to death. We know how to be frugal, but we can't feed ourselves without any money. Our SS benefits are small, but they mean the difference between life and death to us. And there are many others out there just like us. There are no longer any "poor farms" for us to go to. I guess the Republicans would probably prefer that we all just die.

i suspect that many of the seniors who seem to be voting against their own self interest in regards SS, are financially secure enough that they do not depend on those payments. i realize, of course, that this is mere anecdata. there is also a widespread mistaken notion that SS and other safety nets are hand-outs to non-contributing members of society, a notion often reinforced by one certain network.

I consider myself much in tune with the fine comment Kate Gilpin wrote above.

I've done quite a bit of research on the realities of Social Security--from the totally believable statement by several of my older friends. Many people state that Congress has ripped off our Social Security by borrowing from it. It's a matter of semantics..social security funding isn't under the direct control of Congress, nor have they 'stolen our retirement' as a good friend of mine raged at lunch last December. I become quite frustrated by people who just quote something they have heard without verifying the actual facts..in fact simply googling 'Congress borrowing fromSocial Security' brings some good sites that give us the truth about this.

I really appreciate articles such as this one of yours , Ronni. Keep up the good work!
Elle in Beaverton

On the part of this blog about John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio: He has said to seniors in New Hampshire that they "will have to get over it," when it comes to his plan to cut Social Security benefits. Everyone who thinks this guy is pragmatic should keep this in mind. And, if it turns out that he gets his butt kicked in the New Hampshire primary, I guess he'll have to get over it.

Social Security is under constant threat. The young people who believe it "won't be there for them" are absolutely right -- if the Republicans ever get their way. The only way future generations can ever hope to have it, is to keep on defending it for the rest of their lives from the greedy clutching bastards who want to take it away.

It wasn't always this way. I think we can all remember the days when Social Security was supposed to be the third rail of American politics. (Touch it and you die!) After forty years of persistent self-serving lies, that protection has worn through.

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