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The Future of Social Security: 12 Proposals You Should Know About

Pros and cons of options on the table in Washington

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Benefit Improvements

Social Security provides benefits to retired workers and their families; to the spouses and dependents of workers who have died; and to workers who have become disabled and their families. Those benefits are too low for certain groups, according to some who argue that as part of any effort to strengthen Social Security, lawmakers should consider increasing benefits for more-vulnerable recipients. Some of the proposals to improve benefits are:

  • Increased benefits for a surviving spouse
  • Earnings credits for people who are not in the paid workforce because they are caring for a child or other family member
  • A new minimum benefit that’s guaranteed to keep low-paid workers with long careers above the poverty level

Each of these proposals would require other adjustments to benefits or revenue. Proposals to improve benefits for caregivers and low-wage workers have been estimated to increase the funding gap by 5-13 percent. There are no available estimates for proposals to improve benefits for surviving spouses.

PRO: Social Security has features of an ideal pension plan: It is portable from job to job, keeps up with inflation and lasts as long as you live. Most seniors rely on it for most of their income. Yet benefits are modest — $1,230 a month on average. We can afford to improve it. We could ensure that people who pay in at least 30 years will not be poor in retirement, give working parents’ credit for care giving and improve benefits for survivors. We could also help any child of workers who die or become disabled by continuing benefits until age 22 if the child is in college or vocational school. (Virginia Reno, National Academy of Social Insurance)

CON: Although Social Security benefits for some groups are too low, they should only be improved as part of an overall reform. Otherwise, the added costs would only exhaust the trust fund faster. If that happens, benefits would be reduced for everyone. Instead, all of Social Security’s benefits should be reviewed so that some can receive improved amounts, while ensuring Social Security will be able to pay every person appropriate benefits for decades to come. (David John, Heritage Foundation)

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