Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Future is Now for Social Security

Have you thought about Social Security lately? Perhaps it's time.

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of being told that working, lower and middle class Americans who have worked hard and done right by this country will have to temper their expectations or expect less in Social Security benefits. Or pensions. Or Medicare. This must stop, and we have the power to stop it.

Ever since the Reagan-era adjustment to Social Security, we've seen a long list of proposals that seem to focus on privatizing the system, turning it into a 401(k) retirement program, or simply having it pay out less based on a raised retirement age. Most Americans are living longer, and many are working longer, but the simple truth is that elderly Americans need Social Security to survive, because at some point, you have to stop working, but you still need food and shelter.

What seems to be the main barrier to any meaningful reform is this idea that raising taxes will only hurt the economy. What we've seen over the past 40 years are tax cuts that have blanketed the wealthy with new money and the promise that you too can get wealthy, so why fight against your own self-interest? Usually this is the realm of Republicans, but Democrats too bought into the myth that the stock market and other investments, over time, will enable you to live your golden years in prosperity, and with Social Security as an extra bonus as opposed to a necessity.

This was always a false promise, and those who had the money to support, or run as, politicians who would maintain this dream have done very well for themselves. The result has been an expectation that the middle class will just have to make do with less.

Here in New Jersey, we had Governor Chris Christie tell us that public workers were the actual problem, and that our benefits were too generous, but that raising taxes was a non-starter because that would force wealthier residents to leave the state. We now have a Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney, who carried Christie's bucket, refusing to post a millionaire's tax for next year's state budget, insisting instead that public workers need to pay more for their health insurance and pensions.

It's perverse, and it's had a real impact on people's lives. Raises are being wiped away by increasing medical costs, while pensions for both public and private workers are being slashed, cut or canceled.

For Social Security (remember Social Security? This is a post about Social Security), the first action should be for Congress to raise the income limit on the Social Security tax. Right now, all Americans pay Social Security tax up to $132,900 of their income. Obliterate that. Make all Americans pay the tax no matter their income. Why should a high school principal pay the same amount as Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, especially when Social Security will mean everything to that worker, but bus fare for the titans of industry?

Or there is this proposal that would not only raise the income level, after a doughnut hole between $132,900 and $400,000 (why?), it would also raise the Social Security tax rate. The payoff, though, is it would increase benefits. The problem is that although it has support in Congress, it doesn't have enough support to overcome the structural obstructionism that is currently in vogue in the legislature. This is reason enough to ask candidates who run for office in 2020 their opinion on this particular bill.

And that's exactly what I will be doing this week. I'll be calling my representative, Tom Malinowski, and the offices of Corey Booker and Robert Menendez, to begin putting pressure on them to support a fix that will put the program on a path to sustainability for the long term. Please try to do the same with your federal representatives.

It's our future, right?

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1 comment:

  1. It sickens me what Sweeney and his cabal have gotten away with.