Rachel Frazier, Borchard Fellow, National Senior Citizens Law Center
How should we evaluate proposed changes to Social Security? Whose perspective should we take when judging the strengths and weaknesses of social insurance policy? In “Views from the Stakeholders of OASDI: Employers, Workers, and Vulnerable Communities,” Session III of NASI’s 23rd annual policy research conference, four groups were represented as stakeholders of Social Security: employers, workers, children and families, and persons of color.
Kenneth Porter (Americans Benefits Council) started the session by framing a picture of Social Security’s future from an employer perspective. He argued that as the proportion and demands of retiring workers increase, so will the burden on the private sector. What’s more, higher Social Security taxes will lead to American businesses losing profits and jobs to foreign locations. Thus, from his perspective, increasing the retirement age appears to be a logical fix that would stabilize the system without implementing burdensome tax increases.
In contrast, Richard Fiesta (Alliance for Retired Americans) argued that, from an employee perspective, the proposals of the fiscal commission co-chairs – including raising the retirement age – are simply benefit cuts. The hardship exemption sweetener, Mr. Fiesta added, was not feasible and would lead to a slower process for getting needed benefits.
Maya Rockeymoore (Global Policy Solutions) strongly objected to Mr. Porter’s contentions about employers. As a small business owner, Ms. Rockeymoore declared, she finds measures to strengthen Social Security completely affordable. Taking the perspective of persons of color, she further stated that all voices should be part of the debate, and that Social Security must be strengthened in this time of economic instability that has disproportionately hit minority communities.
Finally, Donna Butts (Generations United) emphasized that Social Security supports children and families, providing life insurance for dependents of deceased workers and workers with disabilities.
As the disparate views of employers Mr. Porter and Ms. Rockeymoore suggest, the four stakeholder groups contain within them a diversity of opinions. Two competing ideological standpoints emerged during this session: one, a framework of Social Security in crisis that calls for benefit cuts; and two, a view that Social Security is in good fiscal health and should be strengthened, not cut.
In my opinion, employers, employees, and vulnerable communities alike are better off because of the Social Security system. As Representative Xavier Becerra noted at a recent briefing, nowhere on the private market can individuals find a product with as robust and long-term retirement, disability, and life insurance features as Social Security. Thanks to Social Security, America can field productive workers secure in the knowledge that they and their families will be protected in the event of disability, death, and old age.
Over past decades, the Social Security Administration responsibly built up a surplus from the contributions of American workers in the baby boom generation so that they and their descendants may receive modest support during their years of retirement or disability. In 2008, the majority of Social Security aged beneficiaries relied on the benefit for more than half their income. Over a quarter of elderly African American and Hispanic individuals relied on Social Security for 90% of their income. Since 2008, massive losses in home equity and stock market investments have surely increased reliance on Social Security. The program’s benefits are necessary for the health and welfare of millions of retired and disabled Americans.
At this time of economic recovery, we are in the midst of a debate to define America. The question is whether we have the courage to keep and strengthen our Social Security system that offers the American people a strong and stable life insurance, disability insurance, and retirement plan. As Ms. Rockeymoore stated, “If Social Security would be cut, we would be in an untenable situation in a country nobody would want to live in.”