This year, Social Security celebrates its 75th anniversary and it deserves to be celebrated. The program’s successes have been remarkable.
On August 14, 1935, “one-third of the nation (was) ill-housed, ill-clad, (and) ill-nourished,” in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The nation’s elderly, nearly half of whom lived in poverty, were suffering the most. Their only options were the generosity of friends and family – or the poorhouse.
Today, Social Security is arguably the most successful program in the history of the nation – the bedrock of economic security for countless working Americans and their families. Social Security provides more than half the income for 72 percent of single individuals who receive benefits and for 52 percent of couples receiving benefits. In addition to retired workers, Social Security provides benefits to disabled workers, and to the children and spouses of living and deceased workers.
It’s surprising that this wonderful program has become the victim of widespread misunderstanding and unwarranted gloom. Most young people, for example, don’t believe Social Security will be there for them, and some older folks question whether they will receive the benefits they have earned.
There is ample reason for optimism. Social Security has a surplus of over $2.5 trillion, and it’s still growing. With no changes at all it can pay full benefits until 2037 and 75% of benefits for decades more. That isn’t good enough.
Certainly, Social Security needs to be strengthened and its long-term solvency issues addressed. But the program’s challenges can be overcome with modest changes, as part of a bipartisan, civil conversation about retirement security for all Americans and how best to achieve it.
Social Security is the difference between a dignified old age and one of financial desperation. Keeping it strong should be something we all can agree on.
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