With the ongoing budget debate there is much discussion about what to cut and what not to cut, whether taxes should be raised, and if we should avoid even considering cutting certain programs. At the center of the discussion is the state of entitlement programs.
One program everyone in Washington seems to be leery of is Social Security. Whether it is because of ideologically supporting the program or afraid of ruining a political career, Social Security, again, may remain untouched. Political culture has taught elected officials to avoid the topic of reforming Social Security. In the past, those who have attempted to address issues related to it have been demonized. And when re-election time came around, many private interest groups made sure to fund ads to negatively attack anyone’s past attempts of reforming Social Security. However, with our current debt crisis and economic problems, now is not the time to ignore Social Security. Leadership is needed to tackle the hard problems.
Social Security has run aground. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that program will officially run out of money by 2037 if the program is not reformed. Furthermore, the CBO also projects that this year Social Security will collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out.
Just as alarming as the lack of leadership is the number of Americans who benefit from it who will be dramatically affected if Social Security does fail. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA) over 54 million Americans will receive $730 billion in benefits in 2011, these numbers also includes those who are disabled our receiving survivor benefits. For the month of February, the SSA paid over $58 billion to its beneficiaries. The numbers get even more daunting when they are coupled with the number of Americans who rely on Social Security as their sole source of income.
The SSA states, “Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 22 percent of married couples and about 43 percent of unmarried persons rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more than their income.” The Institute of Women’s Policy Research also provides alarming numbers. According to their data, in 2009, 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men relied on Social Security for all of their income. It is important to keep in mind that Social Security provides many elderly members with the necessary money to avoid poverty. As a result, instead of letting Social Security continue to run its unsustainable course, it is imperative to fix to program so vulnerable members in our society can continue to be aided by it.
The federal government will not only fail as leaders but also as stewards if they continue to dodge the issues with Social Security. There is a problem with Social Security in its current state, and as stewards, our leaders in Congress and President Obama need to work together to create a sustainable solution that takes into account future generations instead of passing on the problem. They inherited an enormous problem that has been foreseen for years; however, stewardship requires that they leave Social Security in a better state than it was when they took office.
The lack of individual fiscal responsibility has become an ongoing problem throughout the United States, but this is no excuse for people refusing to plan ahead. Everyone will, or at least hopes, to reach the age of retirement, and as a result, throughout our time spent working, individuals need to save and plan for retirement, especially in light of the continued problems with Social Security. Just as the federal government is expected to plan ahead to solve Social Security in order to be good stewards, we are held to the same principles and must also plan ahead for ourselves. The Bible teaches us to plan, invest, to keep a budget, and avoid debt.
In 2008, Acton Research Fellow Kevin Schmiesing addressed the problems that were arising with Social Security. In his commentary, “It Still Needs Fixing” Schmiesing showed that since Social Security has been enacted, median net worth has increased and more people now have retirement plans set up and also provided some suggestions:
It is true that Social Security has come to represent a large portion of the income of most aged Americans. The effect of 70 years’ operation of the system, it will change if the incentives are modified. With improving longevity, too, the justification for complete retirement at age 65 weakens. Older people should be welcome to continue to contribute to their income by gainful employment if they wish, yet the current system promotes the opposite, enticing seniors to quit working altogether so as to maximize government payouts.
The current system has important social consequences as well. As Oskari Juurikkala’s recent analysis, Pensions, Population, and Prosperity, points out, increasing dependence on government pension plans has weakened the economic dimension of family bonds. Greater reliance on private retirement funds and family support will not only be more efficient and durable in the long run; it will have the added benefit of encouraging personal responsibility and intergenerational solidarity.
Naturally there remain poor older people who still require assistance and we must take seriously the moral obligation to support them that is incumbent on family, churches and other local organizations, and government—in that order. But the rationale for Social Security as it exists has vanished. The program lumbers on, undeterred, as government dinosaurs invariably do.
Yes Congress and President Obama have their work cut out for them, yes they need to be leaders to solve the problems of Social Security, and yes, Social Security still needs to be fixed. However, we must also be sound individual stewards and be fiscally responsible as well. The days of relying on and expecting Social Security to always be there are long gone.
When I’m engaging in conversation with my peers, who are in their 20s, and the issues of Social Security come up, it is almost a universal acknowledgment that we do not expect the program to still be in existence or to receive any sort of retirement benefits from it. Despite our assumptions on the future of Social Security, we still pay our taxes and contribute to the system even without the hope to ever benefit from it. Maybe this attitude is for the best as it will force us to plan for the future and to rely solely on our savings instead of those from a federal program with an uncertain future.