“Universal basic income” (UBI) has only recently come into popular usage, but the idea of assuring a base level of income to all is not new. Social insurance programs have been performing a similar function for much of the last century. Social Security and Unemployment Insurance both provide a base level of income given one’s eligibility for receiving benefits. The latter part of the statement is, of course, a defining characteristic of traditional social insurance—eligibility is contingent on one’s paying in.
For all of us who are dedicated to the Academy’s mission – “increasing public understanding of how social insurance contributes to economic security” – 2019 has the makings of a challenging year.
One of the top challenges facing us as we begin a new year is to develop and refine a common language that connects with the public at large. When distraction, detraction, and discord seem so prevalent in the nation’s political discourse, we need new ways to refocus the conversation on unifying issues that matter most to many. When it comes to providing greater economic security and reducing inequality in our nation, we need to reframe how we discuss social insurance, so that its enduring value as shared protection will be communicated more effectively.
If we were to measure the American people’s current understanding of social insurance, what might we find?
Kathryn Edwards is an Associate Economist at the RAND Corporation. She is a member of the . After working as a research assistant at the Economic Policy Institute from 2008-2011, Ms. Edwards attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she received her Ph.D. in Economics. Along the way, Edwards was a graduate fellow of the Institute for Research on Poverty and a summer fellow at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.
On November 7, 2018, policy experts and local community leaders gathered in Ann Arbor to participate in an educational forum on the future of Social Security. The forum opened with remarks from the Academy’s CEO, William Arnone, and John Laitner, Director, Life-Cycle Economics at the University of Michigan. Arnone and Laitner expressed angst over our social insurance system’s gaps, but were cautiously optimistic regarding potential solutions to improve the system both financially and in terms of human outcomes. With that, the baton was passed to Luke Shaefer, Director of Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, who served as moderator throughout the forum’s presentations and discussion.
The following are comments by Anna Rappaport from the Academy’s forum on the Future of Social Security, held on September 5, 2018, in Chicago, Illinois. Anna served as a discussant for a presentation by Henry Aaron on his proposed set of reforms to assure the long-term financial balance of Social Security.
I agree with Henry Aaron about the changes in the environment that lead to an increase in personal risk over time. And the level of personal post-retirement risk is increasing.
As the Academy gears up for our 31st annual policy conference, Regenerating Social Insurance for Millennials and the Millennium, I am thinking back to what we have learned from our last few conferences.
Our 2016 conference premiered the Academy’s focus on inequality. Keynote speaker Marc Pearson, Deputy Director of Employment, Labor and Social Affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), reminded us that:
On Wednesday, August 1, dozens of summer interns and young professionals gathered at the 2018 Summer Social Security Academy in Washington, DC to engage in thoughtful discussion about the features and future of Social Security. Guided by actuaries from the Social Security Administration (SSA), participants explored policy options to address the adequacy of benefits and achieve long-term financial balance. For attendees, it was a brief glimpse into the frequent discussions that take place on Capitol Hill and in policy circles around the country.