The Looming Battle for Real Social Security Can Spawn a New Progressive Movement
I don’t care if you are 75 and retired, 61 and just about to reach the age when you become eligible for Social Security, 50 and looking out 15 or 20 years to the time when you’ll need to retire, or 25 with grandparents collecting retirement benefits and wondering what will be there when you get old. Whatever your age, don’t let anyone tell you Social Security is in trouble, or that it “won’t be around” when you need it.
That’s a hoary lie that has been pushed by Republicans as far back as 1935 when Social Security was being established, by leaders like President Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and by corporate lobby groups like the Business Round Table and the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s also been pushed by Democrats like President Clinton and President Obama.
Some, like Bush, have tried to use the lie to convince people to support getting rid of Social Security and replacing it with private investment funds. Others, like Clinton and Obama, have used the lie to try to get the public to agree to cutbacks in Social Security benefits, or to delays in the age of eligibility for benefits. In the most recent iteration of the scam, President Obama has been calling for a shift in the way the Social Security Administration calculates inflation in setting new benefit levels each year, substituting a so-called “chained” Consumer Price Index for the traditional CPI. (In the chained version, appropriately called the cat-food index, instead of looking what has happened to a “market basket” of goods and services people typically use, economists would substitute cheaper or lower-quality goods for goods whose price had risen too much -- for example chicken for steak, beans for chicken, Fiats for Fords, bus and subway tokens for commuter rail tickets, smaller apartments, etc.)
The truth is that there is not a chance in hell that Social Security is going to go bust, or get cancelled. There isn’t even a chance in hell that Social Security benefits will be cut, at least over the long term. Why? Because there are 78 million Baby Boomers -- one fourth of the entire population of the US -- a group whose older members, born between 1946 and 1951, are already old enough to start collecting benefits, and who will increasingly be filing for benefits (technically the Baby Boom is a wave of babies that were born between 1946 and 1964).
Today, there are some 40 million people in the US who are 65 or older. That’s 13% of the total population, and about 25% of the adult population. That number will double to 80 million by 2030, while the total US population, according to the Census Bureau, is expected to rise by only 13% to 358 million by then. This means that the retirement-age elderly that year will constitute nearly 25% of the population, instead of just half that share as they do today. Now consider the impressive political power of the current “senior lobby,” as it is called, and ask yourself whether a lobby nearly twice that size in percentage terms could be stomped on by Washington.