Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Social Security

On this date in 1937, the first social security payment was made. I am a big believer in the construction of a safety net, which I will discuss at another time, and social security plays a large role in that. But social security has gone off track and needs to be corrected.

In 1937, the average lifespan for women was 60.1 and men was 64.4. Social security begins at 65, so the average person would never live to collect. In addition, it was a safety net not a retirement program. In the initial conception not everyone over the age of 65 would collect. If you didn't need the money then you wouldn't collect on it. It was to help protect those who, in most cases, had lived in poverty even when they worked, and when they stopped working it became even worse. Today, it is estimated, that social security keeps 40% of our elderly population above the poverty line. That is what it was intended for and what it should be used for. It is not supposed to be something everyone is "entitled" to because they have paid into the system.

The money we are paying right now is not going into an account for us, like a 401K, etc., but instead is funding the people who are retired right now. That is why the personal account/stock market idea of social security makes no sense (as well as being ridiculous since we have just seen what happens to retirement money invested in the stock market).

I once worked for a company whose owner was very well off and he spent his social security checks on ads saying that people like him shouldn't get any money, and apparently he could not stop receiving the checks. Of course, he was paying his employees a pittance and after being denied a raise from $9 to $11 an hour when they wanted to make me a supervisor, and then hearing him brag about how he spent his social security money, I promptly quit the company.

Of course no one is ever going to touch social security because of the ramifications from all those people who are "entitled" to the money, although a large percentage of these people rail against all other government spending and entitlement programs. Social security is a program that has worked well, along with medicare (you know, socialized medicine) in protecting some of the most vulnerable of our society, which is what it was supposed to do. Let's celebrate it for what it has done, but let's reform the system so that it continues to do what it is supposed to do.

Here are two pieces from the Social Principles that can apply to this issue:

Rights of the Aging -- In a society that places primary emphasis upon youth, those growing old in years are frequently isolated from the mainstream of social existence. We support social policies that integrate the aging into the life of the total community, including sufficient incomes, increased and nondiscriminatory employment opportunities, educational and service opportunities, and adequate medical care and housing within existing communities. We urge social policies and programs, with emphasis on the unique concerns of older women and ethnic persons, that ensure to the aging the respect and dignity that is their right as senior members of the human community. Further, we urge increased consideration for adequate pension systems by employers, with provisions for the surviving spouse.

Poverty -- As a church we are called to support the poor and challenge the rich. To begin to alleviate poverty, we support such policies as: adequate income maintenance, quality education, decent housing, job training, meaningful employment opportunities, adequate medical and hospital care, humanization and radical revisions of welfare programs.... Since low wages are often a cause of poverty, employers should pay their employees a wage that dose not require them to depend upon government subsidies such as food stamps or welfare for their livelihood.

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