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In defense of Social Security

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, February 14, 2011
Posted: 4 pm ET

If you look back at the comments on this retirement planning blog regarding Social Security, you can read a host of opinions from people who believe the program should be either eliminated or radically overhauled. Not many articulate responses have been posted by people who are supporters of Social Security. So in the interest of fairness, I'd like to share some of the opinions of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who has launched an all-out campaign to protect Social Security.

In an op-ed Sanders wrote that has been published in many U.S. newspapers, he says, "As corporations over the last 30 years destroyed the retirement dreams of millions of older workers by eliminating defined-benefit pension plans, Social Security was there paying full benefits. When Wall Street greed and recklessness caused working people to lose billions in retirement savings, Social Security was there paying full benefits.

"Despite its success, Social Security faces an unprecedented attack from Wall Street, the Republican Party and a few Democrats. If the American people are not prepared to fight back, the dismantling of Social Security could begin in the very near future," Sanders writes.

Sanders points out that while Social Security should have enough money available to pay full benefits for the next 26 or so years and 78 percent of promised benefits after that, fixing Social Security so it continues to be stable for our children and grandchildren is a good idea. Sanders proposes raising the cap on taxable income. "By removing the cap on incomes up to $250,000 or more, we can make Social Security fully solvent for generations to come," he writes.

Sanders also addresses why he thinks Social Security is under attack. He says Wall Street stands to gain billions in profits if workers are forced to go to private financial establishments for their retirement accounts. Second, he says that as the Republican Party has moved far to the right and become more anti-government, there are more Republicans who do not believe government has a responsibility to provide retirement benefits to the elderly or to help those with disabilities.

Sanders writes: "Needless to say, I strongly disagree with both of those propositions. In my view, maintaining and strengthening Social Security is absolutely essential to the future well-being of our nation. For 75 years it has successfully provided dignity and support for tens of millions of Americans. Our job is to keep it strong for the next 75 years."

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February 21, 2011 at 10:25 am

I thought the government was going to have to pay back all it had "borrowed" for other government programs. How can anyone say Social Security is in trouble when it's only in trouble because greedy politicians robbed the funds and now don't want to pay them back?

Elizabeth Rogers
February 18, 2011 at 3:30 pm

At age 74 I'm collecting Social Security, but I'm also one of the fortunate few who are still working and contributing through my FICA taxes. I'm for working as long as you can IF your job doesn't demand the body of a 30 year old AND you aren't pushed out of your job because you're "too old". Waiting until age 70 isn't an option for many older people.

For obvious reasons I support Social Security. My husband (now 81) and I saved for our retirement, but we both worked for nonprofits so we weren't able to save as much as, say, a Wall Street hedge fund manager could, and our jobs didn't come with a pension. He worked from age 14-76, and I've worked since I was 16, so we do feel that we've earned our Social Security benefits. For many older Americans, Social Security is the difference between impoverishment and a reasonable standard of living.

How would I save Social Security? First I'd eliminate the earnings cap completely which, many experts say, would solve 75% of the shortfall. A combination of gradually increasing the age of eligibility and slightly higher payroll taxes on high earners could go a long way towards total resolution of the funding "crisis"--as would repayment of what the government has borrowed for other purposes! Still, even with its problems, Social Security is still a better bet for retirement security than entrusting our retirement funds to Wall Street!

Charles F. Cicco
February 16, 2011 at 2:07 pm

My attempt to articulate the situation: The money taken as payroll taxes (FICA) is solely for the workers. The government borrows and replaces the money as treasury bonds since there are not enough mattresses to hide this money. The government is obligated to repay this money one way or another. The money was misspent, not the fault of SS. There are people who want to rob this money in the name of deficit reduction. Do they have no conscience?

February 15, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Thanks, Jennie, for sharing the pro-Social Security point of view. I'm closer to collecting it than I like to admit, and I've always regarded the benefit as just that -- a benefit that will be part of a larger retirement savings program. But not everyone is in a position to save for retirement. Many, including several in my immediate family, rely solely on Social Security. These are people who never made much money and essentially used what they had to live on. Could they have saved some? Sure, but even those who were able to put away some cash now find in their late 70s that their personal savings are gone. I know this isn't ideal, but these are exactly the circumstances for which Social Security was created. I shudder to think how the millions who do and will depend primarily or completely on Social Security would survive if it is dismantled. And I'd love to hear politicians et al who are for ending the program discuss the human side of the aging poor and not just budget numbers.

February 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

A government operated retirement plan is a necessary to provide longterm security to all workers, especially since corporations cannot/will not provide reliable plans. Social Security currently is much more than a pension plan in that about 1/3 of the payout is for welfare type measures, such as, payments to retired workers' EX-spouses and 50% of the workers' benefits paid to spouses even when they did not contribute a penny, etc. If retirees recalculate their benefits based upon only 2/3 of their contribution they may find they are making out very well.

February 15, 2011 at 11:24 am

You and I may have differing opinions about Social Security, regarding how we got here, how it works, who it has af-fected, who it is affecting and who it will affect going forward. Irrespective of our differing viewpoints, there’s one thing we can agree on, and that is any meaningful dialogue must begin with a civil exchange of our views. What’s at stake is the financial well being of middle class working Americans, their families and the communities they call home. By extension America’s future is what hangs in the balance of our mutual willingness to engage in civil dialogue. Much of the analytical confusion that now paralyzes good faith efforts to address the Social Security issue derives from the nature of the 1983 Social Security reform legislation that was promoted as a 75 year solution. The confusion created by that legislation makes it difficult to engage in any meaningful policy discussion without fully understanding what happened then, what it has meant since, and what will mean going forward. To put it in the most simplistic terms, we must begin with the premise that 2 + 2 equals four, and no matter how anyone spins it, 2 + 2 has, does, and always will equal 4. Regarding Social Security politicians, and their airway lords would have us believe that 2 + 2 equals 5, and that sends us down the wrong path in search of solutions. Bottom line; you simply can’t end up with the right answer when you begin with the wrong equation.

February 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

From a person who has worked hard from paycheck to paycheck we will have no funds to live on when we retire without SS.
Raise the rates up to the $250,000 with a higher tax for that group. Limit refunds or the SS payout based over 100,000.
Many people are choosing not to have childern, so who will take care of those people when they cannot pay for there health, and have no SS to pay for care facilities. We also need to get better at who in Washington can get to those funds for there special interests. Stop fraud on SS also, there are many people out there cheating the SS, and those who need it cannot get it. The fraud that is stopped could continue the program for many many years. I know many people who would be in the street if not for SS. Leave the struggling working poor alone, they need the help. Stop the fraud, stop Washington, stop excusing high wage earners, & God bless those who cannot help themselves...

End the Ponzi Scheme
February 15, 2011 at 9:39 am

You do realize Bernie Sanders is a socialist right?

There aren't articulate responses in support of social insecurity because they all ultimately fail logically.

The SS of today is nothing remotely close to what was sold to the public. Backstop to keep elderly from starving on the street, and you are actuarially dead before being able to collect.

The boomers wanted the money spent on them by the government over the past 20 years, now want the government to keep spending on SS for them in retirement. Their entitlement mentality is crushing those of us who are still paying taxes. Their failure to plan and overspending for years is causing me pain, not them, and ultimately I see my kids being far worse off than my boomer parents are now, and yes they didn't plan well either.

February 14, 2011 at 8:36 pm

If 2058 is when the new changes for SS are being propose, that seems a good goal. And people need to be made to understand this. 60% of people living today will be dead and gone, and it gives those who will be around time to plan for their future with or without SS. However, SS should not be eliminated.
The government takes our taxes do what it wants with it and doesn't want to give us nothing in return. Anyway SS is our money. It is just being house by the government or raided by it. Cut way back on foreign aid, and corporate help. Working class people are always being thrown under the buses, trains and from the planes.

February 14, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Fact Check: There is no "social security fund." Every dollar of funds that SS has collected above what was necessary to pay current beneficiaries has been spent on other government programs. In 2010 SS paid more in benefits than it collected. The short-sighted reckless spending by politicians in Washington has been saddling young people and future generations with untenable debts. The very existence of SS has enabled private sector workers to neglect their personal finances and to ignore retirement planning because they think SS is going to take care of them. It's no coincidence that as government took an increasing role in retirement funding, the private sector shrunk its role. Even with the private sector's fluctuations and occasional declines all but the very lowest earners would have been far richer if they had put 12.4% of their income into an IRA or 401(k) over the course of a 40 year career. I'd be more satisfied if I could have half my SS contributions put into my 401(K) and the government took the other half to directly contribute to the accounts of lower income workers.