How about increasing Social Security rather than shrinking it?
Many readers greeted the proposal, in a recent column, with cheers. Other readers worried. The folks who are still cursing Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked why I had gone to the Dark Side.
I haven’t. I’m just trying to find a workable path to a more secure retirement for more people.
The column suggested that we secure and increase Social Security benefits. This is different from the popular scheming in Congress to diminish them. Ideas floated by our elected representatives include raising the full retirement age, changing the formula for benefits and/or increasing the tax on benefits.
So what did readers have to say? Listen.
“Give still more money to the politicians in Washington? Surely you jest!” — James H.
“The (proposal) sounds good to me. I suspect Congress would go for it in a big way, they could appropriate and waste the ‘extra’ 2.18 percent (in tax revenue) that would be created by this plan.”— Gilbert M.
“I think your proposal for expanding Social Security benefits is an excellent idea that would help many individuals. Unfortunately, I have no confidence that our dysfunctional Congress would ever be capable of enacting sensible, reasonable legislation as they have no desire to even attempt to solve any of the nation’s problems.”— Howard T.
“But do you really think it is wise to reward the Congress for a poor job of managing our money by sending them more money to mismanage?”— Lyn S.
Lack of trust is a humongous problem. But there is a solution. We can put Social Security back on a true “pay as you go” basis. We can tailor any tax increases to the expected cash needs of the program. Workers would no longer pay more than necessary to support the program, as workers have done by paying extra employment taxes since 1984. Those additional taxes have built the Social Security Trust fund to over $2.7 trillion, all in the form of Treasury obligations because Congress has borrowed and spent the cash.
Even some conservatives think larger benefits would be a good thing if the new tax money can be used for what is intended:
“Generally, I don’t support any expansion of government programs, but since the population is growing older and people are living longer, we can’t afford to reduce benefits any further than currently experienced” — Jim. D.
This suggests that we go back to the idea that Social Security is a “compact between generations.” That won’t be hard because that’s what it actually is. It’s not a pension plan. It’s not a funded retirement plan. It’s a generation-to-generation transfer from people who are working to people who have retired.
“I totally agree that we should expand (Social Security). It is such a successful program… and with student loan debt crippling our young people, it will be even more important for the next generations.”---Kathleen P.
“We use the terms ‘entitlement’ and ‘benefits’ too loosely. They tend to give a negative impression of Social Security and Medicare. The recipients of those two programs have earned this support by their continuous contributions to these programs.” — Hank F.
“Many people depend on Social Security for the majority of retirement income. With so many companies eliminating pensions, even more people will depend on it in the future.” — Scott I.
“The key for me is enabling folks to plan ahead and know fully that they will receive benefits when they retire. There are enough things in the world to worry about and this should not be one of them.” — Steve C.
A number of readers had more immediate, if partial, remedies:
“Yes, the thrust of your article is pointed in the right direction. I, however, would put a priority on… eliminating the taxation of Social Security benefits, if not for everyone, at least for those under $100,000 in annual income.” — Charles W.
The bottom line is that Social Security has very wide support from working Americans. They are more inclined to expand it than shrink it. And increasing our trust in Social Security might be the best thing members of both parties could do to recover some (just some) of the trust voters once had in them.
It’s more than a pocketbook issue.