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.