October 31, 2013

WILLIAMS: Social Security is worth saving


---- — Oh, geez, here we go again. The Republicans are saying they won’t cooperate on a budget unless “entitlements” are included — that means Social Security and Medicare.

I have paid into Social Security faithfully since I first went to work in 1965. Well, I say faithfully, but it isn’t as if I did it of my own free will. It was automatically deducted from my income. There were plenty of times when I was so strapped for money, that if it had been voluntary, I probably would have opted out, convincing myself that it was only temporary ... just until the financial crunch was over, you know. Turned out, the crunch lasted most of my life.

I retired in 2011 and began to collect my benefits, but who knows what the future holds. I could die tomorrow and the rest of my contributions over the last 40-plus years would simply flow back into the system. My father died at 63, before he got his first check. On the other hand, my mother is 94 and has received more than she ever paid in.

It’s the luck of the draw. None of us knows what will happen in our lives. We could begin our earning life in poverty, then invent something that makes us rich — or we could start rich and lose everything. We could die young or live for a century.

When the program first began, it was meant to be a supplemental retirement. It was hoped that people would have pensions or savings for the bulk of their retirement but Social Security would insure that all Americans had at least a minimum amount of income to stave of financial devastation in their old age. In recent times, more and more elderly American have come to depend on their checks as a substantial portion of their income.

Republicans of the era were opposed to Social Security. Their opinion was that people should take responsibility for themselves. President Roosevelt and most Democrats thought that although they probably should, they often either won’t or can’t. Thus, poor farms.

The government wisely made Social Security a system that included all Americans and not just the lower classes. They didn’t want Social Security to be perceived as a form of welfare but for Americans to think, “we’re all in this together”. And that attitude was prevalent for many years. We were all content to kick in our share and take our chances.

Lately, there has been a disturbing trend toward using the wedges of class and age warfare to lessen the faith Americans have in their collective retirement system. Young payers are told that Social Security may not be there when the time comes to claim their benefits. Social Security is solvent until 2037 and it would only take some minor adjustments (like increasing the amount on which wealthier people pay which currently stops at $110,000). It would be helpful too if politicians treated it as a trust fund rather than a slush fund.

Also worrisome: Many politicians and journalists today make the case that Social Security is a poor investment. Really? It all depends on what you need, doesn’t it? When the stock market dropped precipitously during the recession, didn’t 401Ks lose much of their value? Would you have been well-to-do enough to ride out the downturn? Meanwhile, Social Security benefits went right on. Still, the affluent resent being forced to pay into a low-return program they don’t really need for themselves in order to help subsidize the rest of us.

The fact is that social Security may not be the best retirement fund for every individual American, but it has been and continues to be a tremendous national retirement program. It’s the Social that puts the Security in Social Security.

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at