In the fourth of a series of podcast interviews, National Academy of Social Insurance CEO William Arnone talks with Founding Member Theodore R. Marmor about the early days of the Academy. Marmor is Professor Emeritus of Public Policy and Management & Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Yale School of Management. Listen now.
Tomorrow's announcement by the Social Security Administration about the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits, effective January 2017, is likely to be met with questioning and concerns by many current beneficiaries, particularly in an election year and after no COLA was received in 2016. (That marked only the third year without a COLA in four decades.)
Social Security’s annual COLA is intended to protect the purchasing power of benefits against erosion by price inflation. It is important to many beneficiaries that benefits keep up with the cost of living, because other sources of income typically decline with age. As individuals grow older, their pensions are eroded by inflation, employment options end, spouses cope with widowhood, and savings are depleted - and they rely even more on Social Security.
In recent decades, women have entered the work force in droves, making substantial contributions to families’ financial stability. As a result, however, the once common figure of a stay-at-home caregiver is rapidly diminishing, and families are left to fill in the gaps. Despite increasing responsibilities outside the home, women still also shoulder the primary responsibility of both caregiving for children and for ill or aging adult family members. Increasing pressure to make ends meet with less time and stagnant wages is taking both a financial and emotional toll on working families.
Sunday, August 14 is the 81st anniversary of our Social Security system. While few of us were alive to celebrate the system’s first anniversary in 1936, even fewer have living memories of the social problems that gave rise to it. At the time, half of all seniors were living in poverty, individual retirement savings plans like 401(k)s were 40 years away, and depression-era workers were having a hard enough time providing for themselves and their children, let alone supporting their parents and grandparents. What are we to make today of a program that was created in an almost unrecognizable industrial economy?
Thoughtful commentary on how we got from there to here
In a recent issue of the Boston Review, Elizabeth Anderson, Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, wrote a provocative analysis ("Common Property: How Social Insurance Became Confused with Socialism", 7-25-16) of the origins and evolution of social insurance worldwide and in the United States. Her article includes key points that are critical to an understanding of the positioning of social insurance in our economic and political system, and in our culture. She poses a fundamental question: Why does the U.S. lack a comprehensive, universal social insurance system?
As part of the Academy’s continued focus on income and wealth inequality, expert panelists convened at the National Press Club on June 21st for Advancing Equity and Inclusion through Social Insurance, three discussions that explored how public policies can bolster American family stability in an evolving economy. Recognizing how economic opportunity and mobility are affected by entrepreneurship, paid time away from work for caregivers, and the entrenched wealth divide between whites and people of color, panelists affirmed that social insurance programs provide a critical safety net for risk-taking, retirement planning, and family caregiving.
Income, Health, and Wealth Inequality Emerge as Strategic Focus of Academy Following January Policy Research Conference
A blizzard dropping nearly 28 inches of snow did not stop hundreds of social insurance experts from participating in the Academy’s 28th annual policy research conference last week, Disparate Income, Wealth, and Opportunity: Implications for Social Insurance. Co-chaired by Kilolo Kijakazi of the Urban Institute, Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and David Colby, the two-day conference – built upon two Fall convenings on the same topic – ushered in the Academy’s new strategic focus on income and wealth inequality. Participants, including new and veteran Academy members, came together to share views from both sides of the aisle on income, wealth, gender, and racial/ethnic disparities and how social insurance and other public policies can play a role in mitigating them in fiscally sustainable ways.
As we celebrate the 80th anniversary of Social Security, it is time to recall its contribution to the economic security of America’s working families, and to look toward its future.
Remarkably, for 80 years, through numerous wars and recessions, Social Security has never missed a payment, and has never contributed a penny to the federal debt. Self-financed through contributions by workers and their employers – augmented since 1983 by taxes on benefits – with its annual surpluses invested in U.S. Treasury Bonds, Social Security is walled off from the tumult of both the stock market and annual appropriations battles. While the rest of the government can – and does – accumulate debt, Social Security must, by law, live within its means.
As part of a larger series titled ‘Insult to Injury: America’s Vanishing Worker Protections,’ ProPublica and NPR recently published three investigative reports: