AFSCME supporter holding sign over his head - Hands Off Our Social Security.
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By Dave Lindorff
I was explaining to my 26-year-old son recently that while I'm continuing to work as a writer, because I waited until age 70 to begin collecting my Social Security benefits, I am now collecting almost $29,000 on top of what I earn doing my freelance journalism thing.
He said, matter-of-factly, "Well, I and most of my millennial friends don't expect Social Security to be around when we reach your age"if we ever do."
If that gloomy sentiment is widespread, and I believe it is (one recent poll found 71% of workers don't think they'll get Social Security) , it's no accident. There are a lot of scare-mongers out there, most, but not all of them Republican politicians and conservative pundits on cable and radio programs. These shameless shills for Wall Street's investment industry are spreading the lie that Social Security is a "ponzi scheme" or that Social Security will go bust before young workers today ever get the benefits that they currently 6.2 percent of each paycheck deducted, supposedly to pay for.
Here is an example of the scare tactics:
"Social Security Will Be Insolvent in 16 Years" screams an article in the ironically named libertarian magazine Reason.
Another approach, popular in the financial advisory business, is to first tell people that fears that Social Security will go belly up, leaving future workers with nothing are "overblown," but then to add that if nothing is done, the benefits they are supposed to get could be cut by 20% in 2034. That reduced benefit is an amount that could indeed be covered indefinitely by the payroll tax on current workers from that time going forward, but it would make Social Security even less adequate for funding retirees. This second attack on the system is typically followed by an admonition on the importance for current workers, especially younger ones, to "save and invest" (great advice to give if you're an adviser earning fees for "managing" that money!).
But it's all a lie. So here's my message to you young folks like my son: Social Security isn't going away, and it's not going to even be cut 20%. In fact, the odds are that benefits in the future will be getting raised, not cut.
How can I say this? Isn't the country getting grayer, with older retired people becoming an increasing share of the population? Aren't old people taking all the money out of the Social Security Trust Fund and running it down to nothing, leaving nothing for their kids and grandkids?
Why the Lies about Social Security Won't Work
Let's get a few things clear. Yes, the country's population is aging but as Baby Boomers like myself born between 1945 and 1964 a particularly large cohort now well into retirement age start collecting our Social Security benefits, and as the next generation below us, now in their 50s, start thinking seriously about their Social Security benefits, all will want to ensure the durability of this New Deal program, and not just for ourselves, but for you, our kids and grandchildren.
Republican critics of Social Security, like former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming (now 88 and notorious for once calling Social Security a "milk cow with 310 million teats") have tried to provoke a generational war between young workers and older retirees, the better to undermine and privatize the system. But this strategy has never worked.
Why? Think about it: Have you ever heard a young person complain about the amount of retirement benefits her or his parents were receiving being too great? Of course not! Kids know that without Social Security they'd be having to financially support their aging parents! And have you ever heard old people complain that they need higher benefits and the hell with their children's future Social Security? No! Of course not. Older people have always been the strongest defenders of an enduring Social Security system that will be there for their progeny.
The reason I'm telling you to be confident in the future of Social Security is because everyone in this country depends on it, including you, especially as employers continue to eliminate company pension plans. And even if this democracy we supposedly live in is failing to live up to its promise, corrupted as it has become by the influence of money on politics, by lazy pro-corporate journalism, and by the deliberate misinformation spread by social media, if there are still elections in mid-century, and if there is still a functioning economy, there will be a Social Security System in place paying benefits at least at the level promised to those having the FICA payroll tax deducted from each paycheck to support it year in and year out.