Social Security / Social Security Planning

Should Social Security be transformed into “welfare?” AMAC says “No.”

social security“Social Security does not offer anyone… an easy life—nor was it ever intended to do so.” You might be surprised who uttered this phrase. It was Franklin Roosevelt, the father of the program, in a 1938 radio address, three years after signing The Social Security Act.

Social Security was an anti-poverty program from inception.  In the 1930s, the single greatest cause of poverty was old age.  To stop work meant instant hardship, so people worked until death.  Life expectancy was early 60s.

Still it was designed only to give seniors a bare modicum of respect and dignity.  The benefit was never intended for one to live on by itself.  Savings from a lifetime of work would make up the difference.

Monthly benefits replace just 40 percent of pre-retirement income, an impossible sum to fund what many expect from retirement, be it travel, hobbies, leisure time, or volunteering.  Experts continue imploring people to save more, yet far too many dismiss that with, “I’ll have Social Security.”  Square that with comments from those who dismissed saving but now say, “We can’t live on Social Security.  We need a raise.”

Financial advisers agree on one thing—Americans must learn to defer more gratification today for the promise of a better tomorrow.  A retirement of penury could await those who fail to heed the advice.  But changing the program from an earned benefit into welfare, as most Democrat presidential candidates advocate, is not the answer.

Yet that’s exactly what Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren seek to do with proposals to hike benefits across the board or create a new minimum benefit higher than the poverty level.  It all sounds so nice.  Who on Social Security wouldn’t like an extra $200 a month?  Just send the bill to current workers by jacking up their payroll taxes.  After all, non-working retirees do not pay that tax.

The Social Security 2100 Act, with 208 co-sponsors (all Democrats), appears poised to pass the U.S. House.  The bill hikes the payroll tax 19% (when fully phased in) and introduces a poverty index to calculate benefits rather than exclusively using payroll tax contributions workers have made throughout their lives.  It increases taxes on higher income earners without corresponding benefit increases.

Regrettably, Social Security 2100 does nothing to address the primary reasons Social Security is facing insolvency in just over a decade— increasing longevity and a declining ratio of workers to beneficiaries.  People now live twenty years longer than when Social Security began, yet the bill ignores increasing the retirement age.  Instead it takes a universally popular earned benefit and transforms it into a welfare program.

Social Security has worked because nearly everyone pays into it.  You become eligible for retirement benefits after 10 years of payroll tax contributions.  Benefits are calculated based on your highest 35 years of income.  Thus the longer you work and/or the more money you make, the higher your benefit.  Individuals control their own destiny.

AMAC has a plan to preserve and modernize Social Security without raising taxes or making it resemble “welfare.”  To avoid 20-23% across the board benefit cuts all face in 2035, we propose a gradual increase in the retirement age (early retirement remains age 62).  We change the level of payments slightly for future high-income retirees and propose a tiered but guaranteed approach to calculating cost-of-living adjustments (no more zero percent raises).  AMAC’s plan also provides a means for all earners to have more income available at retirement with our voluntary companion plan, Social Security PLUS.  View the plan at

Jeff Szymanski works in political communications for the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC), a senior benefits organization with over 2 million members.  He is a frequent contributor here and of articles to draw attention to Social Security’s ailing financial health.

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3 years ago

Social security is in trouble not because of age but because the government uses it as a slush fund and never repays what they took. The way to save it is to pass a law requiring that money put in by workers be used only for them. Their annual increase should be set to the same level as inflation. Politicians are the reason it’s in trouble. Look at Oklahoma (?) Program that paid a livable amount until the money grabbing government stop the program because they couldn’t touch it.

Jack Thomas
3 years ago

Social Security (or to many seniors today, “Social Insecurity”) has been a political football and a cash cow for government bureaucrats over the decades —- an ailing, neglected orphan of a once well-intended concept. The time for Congress to get serious about fixing it is long overdue. And fixing it rightly should not include turning Social Security into a welfare program as the above article points out. For too long, many American seniors are forced to live primarily off their SS checks due to lack of other income — either because they cannot work or, worse, if one partner is widowed and re-marries, the government in its misguided wisdom cancels out the smaller SS benefit check and leaves them with only the larger of two SS benefit checks, thus adding to their financial difficulty. (This encourages “common law” living arrangements among seniors rather than marriage, so that BOTH SS benefit checks keep coming each month. Many people are unaware of this). Another obvious problem, of course, is that seniors rely heavily on SS income to pay for needed medicine —- a financial nightmare to many as Medicare doesn’t pay a lot even if you have Part D. I’ve taken the view for many years that no American senior citizen should ever have to face the cruel choice of buying either food or medicine. Not in the wealthiest nation on earth, a nation that can afford to lavish multi-billion dollar contracts on its pro athletes; that gives billions away in foreign aid to countries whose interests are often opposed to ours; that pours billions into the coffers of military contractors — frequently on projects that never see the light of day. Much of that money could be better spent reinforcing Social Security and ensuring its continued solvency while helping seniors have a more secure retirement. We have our public policy priorities backwards in this country in terms of what we think is important. It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who created Social Security and it was Roosevelt who also cautioned, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we have given enough to those who have too little.”

3 years ago

I believe that social security should be separated from welfare. Those of us who pay SS tax receive a benefit that we have contributed to significantly. We get a return based on what we have contributed and when we take that benefit. We should not be sucking social security dry to pay for those who have not contributed the minimal amount to qualify for social security. There’s nothing wrong with having a welfare program to help the poor and needy but it should be totally separate from social security. We have always been a very generous nation and I’m sure we would contribute to a welfare programs of our choice voluntarily. Perhaps we should consider not sending billions of dollars to nations that burn our flag and wish us death and take care of those in our country who are in need that don’t have a means of support.

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