Social Security has been the bedrock of a secure retirement for generations of Americans who pay into it over a lifetime of hard work. The program has provided critical protection for younger families when a worker dies or suffers a disability.
The importance of Social Security to American families cannot be overstated. In 2013, Social Security kept over 22 million Americans of all ages out of poverty. Two-thirds of Americans across demographic and political lines say Social Security is one of the most important government programs, and nearly 9 in 10 adults under age 30 want to know it will be there when they retire. AARP is committed to keeping Social Security strong, but we recognize that changes are necessary to meet 21st-century realities.
Aging today is different from what it was a generation ago, and it will be different a generation from now. Women are working outside the home more than ever, but the system was set up at a time when the single-breadwinner couple was the norm. We no longer live our lives in a linear progression from education to work to retirement. People move in and out of these phases throughout their lives. Increased longevity means more people are living into their 80s, 90s and beyond, and benefits are often inadequate for the oldest beneficiaries.
So, as we consider the future of Social Security, we must do so in the context of how society is changing — not just how to make it solvent and adequate in the near term, but how to make it better for the long term.
While the current program has been a great success, it needs to be updated to address demographic and economic changes over the last 80 years and respond to the needs of future beneficiaries and their families.
As our nation looks to the future of Social Security, the goals must be to keep what works, make changes and improvements where needed, and take the steps necessary to achieve long-term financial stability.
Updating Social Security and keeping its promise for future generations requires presidential leadership. That's why AARP is launching Take a Stand, a nonpartisan national campaign pressing every presidential candidate to lay out his or her plan to make Social Security financially sound so future generations receive adequate benefits.
We're headed into a critical election, and voters deserve to know how candidates will lead and what their plans are for keeping Social Security strong. Yet only some of the presidential candidates have laid out their plans for Social Security. Others speak in vague generalities or avoid the subject altogether. As a result, we the voters know very little about how or even if a presidential candidate would update Social Security if elected.
We are urging candidates to take a stand on Social Security. While AARP's position on Social Security has not changed, we want the focus to be on the candidates. So we will post any plans put forth by candidates on our website, 2016takeastand.org. We will not take sides so voters can decide for themselves who shares their views and values. Through Take a Stand, we will hold candidates accountable on Social Security through advertising, social media, grassroots outreach and our publications, which reach 22 million households. We will applaud those candidates who offer plans and call out those who do not.
The political reality is that there won't be any progress on updating Social Security without presidential leadership. We need to ensure that people who work hard and pay in get the Social Security benefits they've earned. It's time for candidates to take a stand and tell us how they would update Social Security.
Jo Ann Jenkins is CEO of AARP.