The economic crisis of the 1930s led to failed businesses and banks. Steep unemployment, homelessness, and hunger caused widespread anguish in America during the period known as the Great Depression. In 1935, the Social Security Act was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Of the brand new program, mainly designed for the general welfare of retired individuals, Roosevelt said, “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
Per the Social Security Administration (SSA) fact sheet, in 2018, about 63 million Americans received approximately one trillion dollars in Social Security Benefits. The program provides more than just retirement benefits, where nearly nine out of ten people age 65 plus receive Social Security “benefits.” Though Social Security was never designed to entirely support seniors, the SSA states that the Social Security Program is the major source of income for most elderly. As many people know, social security is facing a shortfall. In part, this is due to a surge in seniors (baby boomers) and the fact that seniors are living longer and are collecting social security for longer periods of time. The SSA explains that by 2025, the number of Americans 65 and older will increase from approximately 49 million today to over a whopping 79 million.
When the Social Security Act was initially passed in 1935, it protected individual workers. The program was amended in 1939 to include protection to the family. People are understandably touchy about Social Security. Not only is the program in trouble, disagreements exist over whether it’s an earned benefit, a form of welfare, or a gift from other taxpayers. The debate grows as people argue that it’s technically not your own money coming back to you. Regardless, workers and employers pay for the program in the form of payroll taxes. The money coming back in retirement serves to keep seniors from poverty, something social security has done well throughout the years, to help maintain a stable society. It was never designed to make seniors rich. Nor was it designed to be a sole source of retiree income, but for millions of people trying to keep up with life challenges and inflation, that is the reality.
Per SSA statistics, in 1940, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old was almost 14 years; today it is just over 20 years. When the amount of cash flowing in exceeds the benefits paid out, there is a surplus. Currently, Social Security is facing a reversal of this formula. The Motley Fool shares that a surge in retirees has led to Social Security payments outstripping payroll tax revenue since 2010. The surge is forcing Social Security to tap into the principal in its trust fund. Thus, by 2034, the trust fund, will be wiped out. This is a scary thought as so many seniors depend upon receiving a portion of the money that they contributed through their valuable work-related contributions.
Social Security recognized a crisis in 1982, which led Congress to address changes to increase payroll taxes. The full retirement age was raised through the 1983 Amendments creating a gradual increase from 65 to 67 over a 22-year period to collect full retirement benefits. The Act also made a portion of Social Security benefits subject to Federal Income Tax. Since then, numerous proposals to fix social security have been offered, including raising the retirement age further, increasing taxes, cutting benefits, and encouraging people to personally save more for retirement. Some people advocate giving up on Social Security altogether. However, the program has historically provided a consistent level of protection for retirees, the disabled, and survivors through death benefits.
Folks opposed to saving Social Security may utilize scare tactics to convince the younger generation that it will leave the system bankrupt. However, the younger generation will likely need Social Security or a substitute program offering similar benefits as they grow older and live even longer. Otherwise, it is likely that poverty among seniors will be high, and seniors will be forced to harken back to the days of the Great Depression, where one- third to one-half of the aged were dependent on others for financial support.
During the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1941, the lifetime savings of millions of people had been wiped out. Many Americans were forced to live out their senior years destitute or become dependent upon their children for necessities, such as food and shelter. The United States Government enacted the Social Security Program to create a safety net for seniors. In 1972, Congress approved cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) provision to counteract effects of inflation, which has enabled financially struggling seniors to continue their independence. For retired seniors today, Social Security provides an all-important tool to prevent poverty and to survive on their own income. What’s scary today is that almost one-third of Americans have no retirement savings at all. And, per Forbes, roughly half of American workers lack retirement plans. Thus, the existence of the Social Security is extremely beneficial for American seniors.
Democrats suggest that the main way to save the program is to have the wealthy pay more and receive less benefits. However, the definition of wealthy may include individuals of the non-rich middle class. Republicans suggest raising the full retirement age up to age 70 as a result of increasing longevity in efforts to close the gap. President Trump suggests a means-test for benefits, meaning that people, including himself, who don’t need Social Security should forgo their payments.
Dan Weber, President of the Association of Mature American Citizens, or AMAC, voices that the promise of Social Security for all Americans must be honored. Putting the welfare of seniors at the forefront, he offers a three prime directive plan to achieve long-term trust fund solvency without raising taxes. AMAC’s proposal would increase benefits for those with lower earnings, ensure a continuation of benefits, and provide a means for all earners to have more income available at retirement. Through AMAC, seniors have a strong voice and steady representation in Washington, D.C.
To learn more, and to support AMAC’s vision to save Social Security, visit https://dev.amac.us/social-security/