Despite opposition, Social Security is here to stay


Caroline Enos / Journal Staff

Nancy J. Altman, president of Social Security Works, spoke about the state of Social Security last Thursday at Sargent Hall

Despite recent remarks made by Republican leaders, Nancy J. Altman, president of Social Security Works and the speaker at a Suffolk University event last Thursday, said Social Security is not going away anytime soon.

“Social Security is 100 percent funded for the next decade-and-a-half, and is 87 percent funded for the next 50 years,” said Altman. “You will get your benefits.”

Social Security is a pension plan that provides income for retirees, the disabled and children and spouses of deceased or disabled workers. Altman explained that the program is primarily funded by the FICA tax. A tax which is a 6.2 percent payroll tax on every employee’s wages in the U.S. that is matched by their employer and a 12.4 percent tax on self-employed workers’ wages.

Altman said that one out of every six Americans receives Social Security benefits and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for half or more of their income, while another third rely on it for almost all of their income. Social Security is also the nation’s largest children’s program, because of the survivor and disability insurance it provides for one out of every three beneficiaries.

“Social Security is strikingly superior to what the private sector can provide, but benefits need to be increased,” said Altman.

However, some Republican leaders disagree.

Two weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed a 17 percent rise in the federal government’s budget deficit on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and advocated cuts to these programs.

In December 2017, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoped Congress would move forward to cut welfare and federal health care spending in 2018, as he also suggested that these types of programs were major contributors to the federal deficit.

According to the Social Security Works website, Social Security does not contribute to the deficit because it is only funded by taxes and cannot borrow money. It is also unlikely to go bankrupt because the fund currently has a $2.8 trillion surplus.

“The people who oppose Social Security have not yet succeeded in actually cutting the program,” said Altman. “But what they have been very successful in doing is undermining confidence by saying it’s going bankrupt or won’t be here in the future.”

The United Nations and other global organizations anticipate a labor force shortage in the U.S. because fertility rates have dropped while life expectancy rates continue to increase. Ryan has cited this as another reason why the government cannot afford Social Security.

Altman said immigration will be the solution to manning the labor force, and in part, increasing Social Security funding.

“Undocumented workers actually contribute more to Social Security because they are continuing to contribute to the workforce without ever receiving benefits,” said Altman. “Once you’re undocumented, you’re ineligible to receive benefits for the rest of your life.”

The debate surrounding Social Security is nothing new as there has been opposition to the program since the Social Security Act was passed in 1935.

“In the 1930s, those against Social Security called it socialism and said that this was not the role of the federal government, and they were quite honest and direct about what they thought,” said Altman. “All of a sudden, starting around the 1970s and early 80s, everybody loves social security and you never hear anybody say they oppose it.”

According to Altman, those people who oppose Social Security still exist, however, and this group is mostly a small number of billionaires who have a lot of access to members of Congress and the media.

To Altman, the American people have protected Social Security the most throughout its history.

“We aren’t polarized about Social Security,” said Altman. “Everybody polls this issue and it all comes out the same. Tea party and labor unions, young and old, black and white– all of these people support Social Security.”

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and several representatives in the  House have introduced bicameral legislation that would enhance Social Security programs, create Medicare for all and move America a small step closer toward universal health care.

Altman said the U.S. would be spending 99 percent of its GDP over the next 75 years if universal health care were to be signed into law right now, but with a better system, universal health care for all Americans is an attainable goal.

“Other countries spend 7 or 8 percent on universal health care and they have better health care outcomes, such as lower rates of infant mortality and longer life expectancy for both rich and poor,” said Altman.

Brittany Ayinde, a freshman pre-law major, gained a different perception of Social Security after listening to Altman’s speech.

“It gave me a lot more hope that I could have Social Security to rely on when I get older,” said Ayinde.

As Altman said in the beginning of her talk, this is what she wants to hear from young people. 

“You cannot outlive Social Security,” said Altman. “You should be paying back your student loans, buying a house, and taking risks because Social Security will always be there if you need it.”