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Another Voice: Social Security provides a crucial lifeline for retired Americans

By Stephen J. Muscarella

As we celebrate the 83rd anniversary of Social Security, it is beyond my comprehension why some politicians and writers are opposed to this program.

In a recent opinion column in The Buffalo News, Robert Samuelson wrote “we’ve mortgaged the country’s future to spending for older Americans.”

Those of you who are aghast at the internment of children at our borders should know Social Security is the nation’s largest children’s program, providing support directly or indirectly to nearly 11 percent of America’s children.

For 80 plus years, Social Security has been a cornerstone of retirement security and kept generations of Americans out of poverty.

Before Social Security, growing older often meant hardship and destitution. When the program began, around half of our nation’s seniors lived in poverty. Today the rate is less than 10 percent.

Mr. Samuelson and other critics would have you believe Social Security is to blame for our unfathomable national budget deficit. The truth, however, is that Social Security is fully funded through payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers. Our Social Security system doesn’t contribute a penny to the deficit.

And Mr. Samuelson is in error when he states, “At age 65, typical Americans live another two decades.” This is just not true for the bottom half of income earners in America. For these workers, life expectancy has barely budged over the last 30 years.

And what about the campaign to create distrust and undermine the integrity of Social Security among middle-age and younger workers in our country? Social Security is not running out of money. There is $2.9 trillion in the Social Trust Fund and the fund is solvent through 2034. After that, the system would be able to pay 75 percent of scheduled benefits. With the elimination of pensions and a paucity of retirement savings, this income might be essential.

Currently workers and employers pay tax for up to $127,800 of their wages. Simply requiring wealthy Americans to pay their fair share by “scrapping the cap” on the Social Security payroll tax contributions would keep the program solvent for years ahead. It would also be reasonable to increase the percentage of the tax just a wee bit.

Mr. Samuelson characterizes elected officials’ action that defends Social Security as “political cowardice.” As a political columnist he should know the preamble of our Constitution states “to promote the general Welfare.” Social Security makes sure that everyone has some insulation from the harsh reality of the economy.

There is no shame in that, Mr. Samuelson. The shame lies with those who distort the truth and don’t understand the humanitarian role of the government that goes beyond Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.

Stephen J. Muscarella is president of the New York State Alliance of Retired Americans, Western New York chapter.

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