Washington Policy Watch

One year ago, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the first progressive income tax in our state in 85 years. This tax on incomes in excess of $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for families will produce sufficient revenue – more than $200 million a year – to lower property taxes, provide affordable housing and transit, replace federal funding cut by the Trump Administration, create green jobs, enable tuition-free community college for all residents, and fund other public services.

It is a tax that speaks directly to the privilege and power of the top corporate executives and the 1 percent of Seattle residents who have benefited enormously from the ongoing transfer of income from middle- and low-income to wealthy Americans. So it was no surprise that these same wealthy people sued to block Seattle’s income tax. They are represented by the Koch Brothers-funded Freedom Foundation, which is trying to decapitate unions as the organizations voices for workers, and the Pacific Legal Foundation, which succeeded in rolling back civil rights law.

As anticipated, the King County Superior Court ruled against the City of Seattle. According to precedent, subordinate courts do not overturn decisions that were made by the court that has final decision-making power, in this case the State Supreme Court. However, EOI and the City of Seattle have requested direct review from the State Supreme Court. If the State Supreme Court agrees to direct review, then we can expect oral arguments in the fall, and a decision in 2019 or 2020.

While the legal maneuverings proceed, the acceleration of income to the affluent is unabated. Using 2014 IRS data, we projected the City of Seattle would raise about $140 million a year from this tax. Using 2015 data, we now project that the City would raise $170 million a year. As of 2015, 10,000 residents would be contributing to this tax, roughly the wealthiest 2.25 percent of all Seattle households. We also know that Seattle has the most regressive tax system in our state, with people who earn less than $25,000 contributing over 18 percent of their pre-tax income in state and local taxes, and those with incomes in excess of $250,000 contributing less than 5 percent.

The Trump-Proof Seattle Coalition, and, in particular, the Transit Riders Union and EOI, created the political and policy force to move this income tax through the city council. Our opponents would like people to believe that this income tax is dead. It is not!

Indeed, by suing the city of Seattle, our opponents have created the legal pathway to the State Supreme Court, thereby enabling that court to uphold Seattle’s income tax and create the foundation for a progressive and robust tax system, in Seattle, in other municipalities, and statewide.

These legal battles take years. We have good reasons to believe that we will prevail. What the Seattle City Council voted into law one year ago today will be seen, when we look back in time, as a catalytic moment for progressive taxation in Seattle. You helped make that happen. Now we have to be patient and enable our legal teams to do their very best work to ensure that the State Supreme Court upholds this law.

 Thank You and Happy Anniversary!

We have had more than a week of devastating news from Washington DC on immigrants, workers, women, consumers, citizens, and non-citizens. Some of us are hoping to take a break from this madness on the Fourth of July, our country’s Independence Day. It’s a day to celebrate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to celebrate freedom and justice, and to eat hot dogs.

People should know this celebration is mostly national mythmaking. Not only did Independence Day really occur on July 2, but it idealizes the past. It covers up the reality that our country was not born a democracy. It was born with slavery and genocide. The signing of the Declaration of Independence meant little for the approximately half a million slaves living in the 13 colonies, or for the Native Americans whose land was taken. It did not extend the vote to women, non-whites or property-less people.

Only the already privileged and powerful gained life and liberty with our country’s independence.

We are on the verge of repeating our history. There are more black people in prison now than there ever were slaved in America. American Indians’ rights are trodden upon and ignored – our local version of “Does Flint have clean water yet?” should be “Are the Duwamish a federally recognized tribe yet?”. The impending retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy means that same-sex marriage and abortion accessibility are under imminent threat.

Trump, in his endless lies and self-aggrandizement, has ripped off the scab of civility from some elected officials. These are mostly Republicans, but also include Democrats, and they are intent on taking apart Social Security and Medicare, ramping up anti-immigrant hatred, and insuring that workers remain powerless. These politicians created the political pathways, the dog whistles, and the calculations for reaction.

For progressives, it’s never been a more depressing time. But it helps to remember that even though there were huge fundamental problems of social justice in 1776, today is more equal than it was. Conservatives didn’t achieve that – they just want the status quo.

Progressives achieved change through constant protest, through consistent action, bit by bit. No one in 1776 would have thought America would be a country where women can vote, a black man can be president, and two men can marry. Those would have seemed insurmountable.

Remember that as you enjoy your holiday. Come back refreshed to fight for justice until your next day off.

Floyd and his longtime friend, Alene Moris

Floyd and his longtime friend, Alene Moris

This year, we’ve started the Floyd Jones fellowship, honoring a man who grew up in dire poverty, as a sharecropper in Arkansas, yet moved to Washington and became an extremely astute and successful financial investor.

Floyd did not sit on his wealth. He put it to work for the benefit of others, in both big and small ways. As one example, in 2014 Floyd gave $10 million for an endowment for the ACLU, particularly to fund work to end mass incarceration and create pathways for actual rehabilitation. In 2016, Floyd contributed $10 million for the construction of the Stanwood YMCA. In planning his legacy, Floyd designated multi-million gifts to 20 non-profit organizations in the region, including EOI.

Floyd’s son, Steve, funded this fellowship in memory of his father.

The Floyd Jones Fellowship is a graduate-level policy position within the Economic Opportunity Institute, with a focus on one of our policy areas – health care, progressive taxes, funding public services, improved work lives, etc.

This year, we welcome Brandon Bannister and Sharayah Lane.

Brandon Bannister

Brandon Bannister

Brandon is a graduate of the University of Washington Tacoma, and current MPA candidate at Seattle University. He has worked for legislators and lobbyists in Olympia, as well as managing four political campaigns.

“I have a deep passion for lifting up the poor and middle classes and creating a more equitable life for the people in my community,” he says. “These values coincide with the mission of EOI and that’s why I’m so excited to work here.”

During the summer. he will work on health care policy and intends to expand his policy analysis and program evaluation skills to become a better advocate for disadvantaged populations.

Sharayah Lane

Sharayah Lane

Sharayah Lane is pursuing an MPA at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. She is a member of the One Table initiative created by King County, Seattle and Auburn officials to address the root causes of homelessness. She is also currently working with Habitat for Humanity on a management project to document and improve work processes such as procurement, site scheduling and permit approval.

“Understanding the importance of public sector economics and fiscal policy is a new and exciting chapter in my education,” she says. ”

My own background growing up in poverty and experiencing many of the broken parts of our systems firsthand, have fueled my passion to be a leader in creating large-scale systemic change for the most vulnerable in our society. I love the work EOI is doing and has accomplished over the years and it is an honor to be a part of it. At EOI, I hope to hone my data skills to improve research that benefits all residents.”

During the summer, she will work on education policy, researching how low wages for staff affect quality, hiring and retention at early learning centers statewide.

 

 

Marilyn Watkins 2016 smallCan you believe it’s been a year already? Thanks to you and so many others, one year ago this week Washington’s Legislature passed Paid Family and Medical Leave.
It means starting in January 2020, all  workers in our state will be able to take 12 to 18 weeks of leave to care for a new child, a seriously ill family member, their own serious health condition, or cope with a family member’s military deployment. Do you want learn about all the details?  Take a look at our brochure.
What’s been happening during the last 12 months? Members of the Washington Work and Family Coalition along with colleagues from the business community have been busy working with staff from the new Paid Family and Medical Leave Office to get the program off the ground, including developing computer systems, program rules, and application procedures so the program is simple and fair for both workers and employers.
PFML is an insurance-type system. Starting in January 2019, both workers and their employers will start contributing to the fund through small payroll deductions. That means a year later when people begin applying for benefits, the money will be there. You can see examples of premium and benefit amounts here.
What can you do now? Help spread the word, so everyone who needs this program knows about it!
  • Share this information with your friends and coworkers.
  • Invite us to come speak to your group. Please contact gabriela@eoionline.org.
  • Sign up for information directly from the PFML program, and check out their factsheets here
We passed this program together, and together we can be sure it delivers to improve the health and economic security of all Washington working people and their families!

NEW RIGHTS to equal pay, pregnancy accommodations in the workplace, and paid sick and safe leave are now in effect statewide.

Learn more about these here.

It is easy to get discouraged by the actions of the US Supreme Court in their continued five-to-four assaults on women, immigrants, workers, and consumers. With the next Trumpian Supreme Court nominee, we can only expect that things will get worse.

But if we focus on DC, we miss the opportunities in our own backyard. While we are relatively helpless in influencing Supreme Court decisions, we can be quite powerful in building economic security for all in Washington State. Today our policy director, Marilyn Watkins, received the Seattle CityClub’s Civic Leadership Award to honor her leadership of EOI’s efforts for universal paid family and medical leave insurance in our state.

The Legislature passed this groundbreaking law in 2017. That followed up the citizens’ initiative in 2016 that put paid sick days in place across our state and raised the minimum wage. This year, the Washington Work and Family Coalition succeeded in prompting the Legislature to pass a law for gender wage equity. This went into force June 7.

Our work for progressive taxation marches forward along the legal pathway to the state Supreme Court, enabling that court the ability to review and reverse their perverse ruling on taxation from 1935.

So rather than watch CNN or MSNBC (or Fox!), perhaps it is better to turn those TVs off and focus on what is possible at the state and local level. Because no matter what hatred is propagated in DC, we can build a truly shared and good quality of life for all of us here in Washington State. Let’s do that.

tumblr_mjkxc1R0q91qabe6do1_500The Economic Opportunity Institute just released a new report on the gay wage gap in Washington State. Read it here.

The Census Bureau doesn’t try to collect data on LGBT people. No administration has made that a priority.

But with some charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, we can learn still about queer incomes. Gay men in Washington are being paid significantly less than straight men for the same work.

Because same-sex marriage became legal nationally in 2015, we can get data about lesbian and gay people, but only if they’re married. Bisexual people count if they are married to a person of the same sex. If a bisexual woman marries a man, in the eyes of data collectors, she’s just a run-of-the-mill heterosexual.

Washington State, as a national leader on marriage equality, is fortunate enough to have four years of data on same sex-marriage from the American Community Survey.

You can’t find the data through the Census Department’s online tool, however. To actually see the unadulterated results – or get Washington-specific results – you have to go through the raw survey data and analyze it.

It will be more easily available later. The Census Department will begin tracking and releasing data on same-sex married and unmarried couples in 2020. That’s not exactly a change of heart. The Census Bureau is just repackaging what it’s already doing and asking for a cookie. They don’t get a cookie. They definitely can’t have a Colorado wedding cake.

It’s still a small data set. About 50 percent of U.S. adults are married, but it seems unlikely this statistic holds true for the queer community. The number of people in same-sex marriages in Washington almost tripled from 2013 to 2016. Either the U.S. military perfected its bomb that turns people gay, or it’s going to take time for LGBT to catch up.

Nonetheless, non-same-sex-married lesbian, gay and bisexual people are still invisible in the Census – as are all transgender people.

When you disaggregate data for wage income for full-time married workers in Washington from 2013 to 2016, you get this lovely chart:

At first blush, it doesn’t make sense. Gay men make the same amount of money as straight men statewide, but they make less in Seattle and less in the rest of the state. How is that possible?

It’s because LGBT people, like beautiful birds or fluttering butterflies, migrate to find better homes – in cities. But not just any city. In Washington, they migrate to Seattle.

This is because Seattle has been a mecca for LGBT people since the end of World War II, when LGBT people leaving the military did not want to go home to their families and congregated in cities near military bases, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and New Orleans.

Seattle is home to 8 percent of the Washington’s opposite-sex married couples, but 26 percent of the same-sex ones. Incomes (and costs of living) tend to be higher for residents of Seattle than for people in other parts of the state. So when comparing income and sexuality data statewide, the disproportionate amount of dame-sex couples in Seattle hides the true gaps in income based on sexuality.

You may also notice that there is a higher proportion of same-sex married households in West Seattle (3.67 percent) than there is on Capitol Hill (3.54 percent). That’s because queer people aren’t just ignored; they’re being pushed out. In Seattle LGBT people are losing their neighborhoods.

But if LGBT people are rainbow-colored butterflies, then cisgender heterosexuals are crabgrasses, springing up everywhere and taking over. Affluent straights are no longer afraid to live next to LGBT people, and are taking over their neighborhoods and pricing queer people out.

Well, maybe they’re not all OK with living next to LGBT people. Hate crimes on Capitol Hill have been steadily increasing since 2012. But at least we left behind rainbow crosswalks.

The chart above shows that men in same-sex marriages in Seattle make a median of $78,600 in 2016 dollars, 18.4 percent less than $96,300 for men in opposite-sex marriages ($57,100 vs. $65,500 in the rest of the state – 12.8 percent less).

Women in same-sex marriages in Seattle make a median of $71,600, 1.4 percent more than $70,600 for women in opposite-sex marriages ($53,200 vs. $47,200 in the rest of the state – 12.8 percent more). But they still make less than men in same-sex marriages – 25.6 percent less in Seattle and 18.8 percent less everywhere else.

As is the case with why women are paid less than men, part of this can be explained by different jobs – but only part.

Men in same-sex marriages are less likely than men in opposite-sex marriages to work in traditionally male or high-paying fields. They are less likely to work in computers, science, mathematics, construction or police. They are more likely, however, to work in the arts, healthcare, and administrative support – traditionally female and lower-paying fields.

For women in same-sex marriages, the opposite is true. They are more likely to work in science, construction, policing, the military, computers and mathematics, and less likely to work in administrative support, healthcare, education and personal care.

This holds true even in the same fields.

When comparing same-sex married full-time workers and opposite-sex married full-time workers in the non-management sales, for example, the same trend reoccurs.

Straight men earn more than gay men, who earn more than lesbian women, who earn more than straight women.

This is a trend that has been backed up by researchers multiple times. In 2015, Marieka Klawitter of the University of Washington undertook a meta-analysis of 31 studies.  She found that on average, gay men earned 11 percent less than heterosexual men. Lesbians, however, earned 9 percent more than heterosexual women.

It’s because we, as a culture, financially penalize femininity. Gay men are stereotyped as effeminate and suffer the consequences. Lesbians profit from their stereotyped masculinity, but not to the extent that they are equal with men.

It has been repeatedly shown that girls are less likely to go into STEM fields not because of their inherent aptitude, but because of negative messages they hear about girls being bad at math, and that girls are expected to pursue people-oriented careers. When gay boys are told by their peers that they are essentially girls, it follows that they are subject to the same career pressures.

There is also a high level of queer-specific discrimination. As much as 37 percent of lesbian and gay people have experienced workplace harassment, and 12 percent have lost a job because of their sexual orientation. In many states, it’s still not illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

To make up for the wage gap, people in same-sex marriages work more than people in opposite-sex marriages.

In Seattle, 57 percent of opposite-sex married households have both spouses working (full- or part-time), and 12 percent have neither working. For men in same-sex marriages, however, 71 percent have both partners working and 3 percent have neither. For women in same-sex marriages, 74 percent have both partners working and 6 percent have neither. In the rest of the state, the gap is less pronounced, but still holds true.

But isn’t that often the case? People who are lower paid work more hours just to get by. Minimum wage workers have to work three different jobs to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle now.

So as Pride comes up this month, remember why is exists: we’re not treated equally, and we’ll cover everything in glitter until we are.

haring

Keith Haring’s activist art from the time when Ronald Reagan ignored gay men’s deaths.

The Economic Opportunity Institute just released a new report on the gay wage gap in Washington State. Read it here.

After same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, many Americans came to the well-meaning but misguided conclusion that LGBT people were finally in the eyes of the government.

But the American government has never cared about LGBT people. It doesn’t even really see them.

In its huge decennial census and smaller yearly surveys, the Census Bureau works tirelessly to suss out the statistical composition of our country. Because of this, we know that 20,590 U.S. residents speak Irish Gaelic, the greeting card industry employs 14,162 people, and that 13,873 firms are Hispanic-owned in Illinois.

But these surveys don’t tell us anything about LGBT people. The Census Bureau has never cared to ask.

Since the times when the Reagan administration publicly and repeatedly mocked gay men dying from AIDS, no presidential administration has made adding LGBT people to government data a priority. The federal government doesn’t want to ask about LGBT people because it’s easier to ignore issues facing our community without data. If there are no reliable statistics, the government can pretend the problems don’t exist.

They do exist, and they are often getting worse – but we have to rely on universities and private studies to do this research because the federal government doesn’t care.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the LGBT community is by far most the likely to be victimized by violent hate crime – more than blacks, Jews, or Muslims. Of these anti-LGBT hate incidents, trans women bear the brunt of the attacks.

In terms of discrimination, 55 percent LGBT reported experiencing discrimination in 2017, over 44 percent in 2016. That’s a 25 percent increase.

LGBT people are also more likely to be homeless, incarcerated, or suicidal.

People are also less comfortable around LGBT people than they were in 2015. While 29 percent of Americans in 2015 felt uncomfortable with seeing a same-sex couple holding hands in public, 36 percent felt that way in 2017. Worse yet, 32 percent said they’d be unhappy learning a family member is LGBT in 2017, compared with 27 percent in 2015.

In the twilight of Barack Obama’s presidency, at least four federal agencies asked the Census Bureau to add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the decennial census and the yearly American Community Survey. But Obama left office before that could happen.

In March 2017, the Census Bureau sent out a memo noting its plans to ask about sexual orientation and gender identity. That was immediately rescinded, with the Census Bureau concluding that there was “no federal data need” for information on LGBT people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Health and Human Services concurrently dropped the few LGBT questions included in surveys they conduct.

In its reasoning, the government essentially said the LGBT community is too small to be worth counting. But even if you go by the smallest estimate of the LGBT population in America – 2.3 percent from the CDC 2013 – there are more queer people in the U.S. than there are total people in Washington or 37 other states. Imagine if the 2020 Census neglected to count anyone in Washington State because it’s so small, and instead inferred data and characteristics from its California count!

The number of LGBT people in America is definitely more than 2.3 percent, and perhaps as high as 8 percent. Researchers expect that number to continue increasing, as we’ve come a long ways since the 1990s when Bill Clinton said he wouldn’t want anyone in the military who’d “show up at a Queer Nation parade,” whatever that is. (My friend said he’s a card-carrying member. He’ll invite me to his next soirée and I’ll report back.)

A 2018 report from research center Boston Indicators found that nearly 16 percent of people ages 18 to 25 in Massachusetts identify as LGBT, but fewer than 3 percent of those ages 65 to 74. The demographics are changing faster than Barack Obama’s for it/against it/for it stance on gay marriage equality.

Pride isn’t just a celebration of culturally appropriating the rainbow from the Old Testament. It’s about fighting to be visible. When the government decides that data on LGBT are not important, that means the community remains uncounted in countless indicators that policymakers use to determine how various programs impact Americans who are urban, rural, women, African-American, blind, or other identities.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But the universe is not a rainbow – it doesn’t bend on its own. Same-sex marriage didn’t happen because the federal government realized it was the right thing to do. It happened because LGBT people fought for it. History is not on anyone’s side – it’s written by the victors – and we have to be counted in order to win.

The government will not care for you unless you force it to, especially under President Trump, who has rolled back every LGBT protection he can get his doll-sized hands on. Fight. Make the straights in power see you.

“Freedom ain’t free. Every day we have to wake up and fight for it. Every day we’s afraid of making a mistake.” – Janelle Monae, Seattle, June 11, 2018.

 

You now have the legal right in Washington to talk about wages with coworkers and to ask your boss why you’re paid differently than coworkers or haven’t gotten that promotion you deserve. Washington’s Equal Pay and Opportunity Act comes into effect today, guaranteeing this freedom of speech in every workplace.

The law also provides penalties for any company that retaliates against workers who exercise their rights and provides new tools for people who face gender discrimination.

These new rights are important. Earlier laws made it too easy for employers to get away with discriminatory practices.

It’s been illegal to pay women less than men for similar work in Washington State since 1943 and across the U.S. since 1963. Nevertheless, women continue to be paid less than men in nearly every occupation. The most recent detailed occupational data for full-time U.S. workers from 2016 found near wage parity in only a handful of mostly smaller occupations, including message therapists, medical record technicians, and phlebotomists. Among dishwashers and fast-food prep and service workers, women make about 98 percent of men’s pay, but both only bring home about $20,000 a year for full-time work.

Men receive significantly more pay in every occupation that employs more than half a million women nationwide except social work (a field that’s 81 percent female), where women make 99.2 percent of men’s pay. The gender wage gap is 87 percent for secretaries and administrative assistants, 91 percent for registered nurses, 94 percent for elementary school teachers, 73 percent for retail supervisors, and 67 percent for retail salespersons. Women represent only 18 percent of software developers and 11 percent of aerospace engineers, fields in which median wages for men are over $100,000 annually but for women are about $90,000 (87 percent and 88 percent of men’s pay, respectively).

Overall, women in Washington typically make $13,000 less per year than men for full-time work. That helps explain why 37 percent of single-mom families and 17.5 percent of all Washington kids live in poverty.

Persistent racial discrimination compounds the pay gap for women of color, and further limits opportunities for their children and families. In 2016 among fulltime workers in Washington, Asian women made 82.5 percent of white men’s earnings, white women 76 percent, Black women 62 percent, and Latina women 48 percent.

The wage gap follows women into retirement as well, with less Social Security and other retirement income.

Sexual harassment, cultural assumptions of supervisors, and inadequate societal support for caregiving – along with outright discrimination – contribute to continued occupational segregation and lower wages for women. The lack of good enforcement options also has allowed deliberate discrimination and biased assumptions to go unchecked. Until now, people have had to sue their employer and prove intent to discriminate. With our new law in Washington, people now have the option to file a complaint with the Department of Labor and Industries.

With either a filed complaint or a lawsuit, the ball is now in the employer’s court to prove that they had a bona fide business reason unrelated to gender or earnings in a previous job for pay and career advancement differences.

Several other new rights will also promote greater workplace equity, family economic security, and community prosperity across Washington. A quartet of laws concerning sexual harassment also become effective this week, protecting victims, ending employer-imposed gag orders, and establishing a process for model workplace policies.

Most workers statewide now have the right to earn – and use – paid sick and safe leave, so they won’t lose a paycheck when they need a few days away from the job to keep themselves or their families healthy. Starting in 2020, all employees and small business owners across the state will have paid family and medical leave benefits to cover extended leaves to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, their own serious illness, or deal with a family member’s military deployment.

All of these new rights are the result of thousands of individuals speaking out, organizing, and working together to make our democracy work for us.

New rights under the Equal Pay and Opportunity Act won’t end employment disparities overnight, but greater transparency in wages and career opportunities should help push both workplace practices and culture towards more equitable outcomes.

 

Social Security CardThe 2018 Social Security Trustees Report is out, weighing in at a somewhat-intimidating 270 pages (!). But if you don’t want to wade through it, here’s the bottom line on Social Security’s bottom line: it’s in good shape – and with a few legislative changes, could be even better.

A large (and still growing) surplus means Social Security is fully funded for at least the next decade-and-a-half. The Social Security Trust Fund balance stood at $2.89 trillion at the close of 2017, with an annual surplus of $44.1 billion. The program can pay all benefits to beneficiaries, as well as associated administrative costs, for the next 16 years – and with no changes, 79 percent of all program costs after 2034.

It’s important to remember that Social Security will keep on paying benefits  even if the Trust Fund is depleted – and there’s a pretty straightforward way for Congress to avoid any reduction in future benefits for today’s younger workers: Social Security can fully pay all scheduled benefits for the foreseeable future if Congress ensures the wealthy pay their fair share. Currently, workers and their employers each pay 6.2 percent of wages toward Social Security – but there’s a cap: high-earners don’t pay anything on wages over $128,400.

According to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service, Congress could extend the Trust Fund’s surplus until 2087 by simply scrapping that cap, so the wealthy pay Social Security taxes on all of their income – like the rest of Americans already do!

If those facts come as a surprise, you may be one of the millions of Americans who have been subjected to a relentless campaign to convince them Social Security is in crisis and won’t be there when they retire.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Social Security is not only the largest, best-known and most efficient retirement, survivors, and disability insurance program in America’s history; it is also the nation’s most secure and conservatively invested public trust.

What’s more: Social Security doesn’t just work – it works well!

  • In Washington, nearly 1.3 million state residents of all ages receive Social Security benefits. That’s 18 percent of our state’s population who in turn provide income for 30 percent of the state’s households.
  • Social Security is a remarkably effective anti-poverty program: Social Security dramatically reduces poverty among the elderly in Washington, from 35.1 to 7.4 percent. Retirement benefits are modest, averaging $1,379/month ($16,549/year) – but without them, an additional 301,000 Washingtonians age 65 or older would have lived in poverty in 2015.
  • Social Security protects children and families against tragedy: For 98 percent of Washington’s more than 1.6 million children and families, Social Security is the primary insurance protection in the event a parent or spouse dies or is disabled. In 2016, over 109,000 widow(er)s and children in Washington received an average $1,219/month ($14,631/year); over 211,000 disabled workers and their families received an average $1,061/month ($12,737/year).
  • Social Security bolsters local economies across the state: In 2016, Social Security benefits were equivalent to 5.2 percent of Washington’s total personal income, and generated more than $31 billion in economic activity, 192,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in state and local tax revenue. In December of that year, nearly $1.7 billion in Social Security benefits went directly to local economies across the state, from King County (288,000 people, $406 million) to Garfield County (660 people, $808,000).

Social Security does this in every state across the nation. So why is an entire political party and its leaders dedicated to pulling the economic rug out from under millions of Americans? To trade Social Security for more tax cuts to benefit the super-wealthy.

Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t “afford” Social Security: in 2018, Social Security payments will be just 4.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Even when future benefits are at their highest (the year 2095!) it will constitute just 6 percent of GDP – considerably less than other industrialized nations spend on equivalent programs.

Reducing Social Security benefits, limiting cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) and/or increasing the retirement age will diminish economic security for nearly every American. It would disproportionately affect low- and middle-income families, women and all workers of color who, unlike wealthy individuals, often do not have significant retirement savings and work in more difficult and physically demanding jobs.

It’s time for Congress to expand and improve Social Security – so it continues protecting our families and communities, and creates a more equitable and secure future for us all – by:

Raising benefits overall: Adjusting the benefit formula to raise benefits for those who have had careers in low-wage occupations – such as childcare, restaurant service, or home health care. This would better protect the financial security of people just scraping by.

Protecting the very elderly: Living to extreme old age, outliving a spouse or not having a spouse greatly increases the risk of poverty. “Bump-ups” in benefits for seniors living past a certain age and increasing benefits for single elderly people would help reduce financial insecurity.

Honoring time caring for family: Caring for children or aging family members can cause many people, especially women, to reduce their hours or stop working, greatly affecting their retirement benefits. Reducing the number of years’ earnings used to calculate retirement benefits from 35 to 30 can eliminate this caregiving penalty. It would also help Millennials and others who have had reduced access to employment in economic downturns and those who’ve suffered the brunt of racist mass incarceration policies.

Restoring student survivor benefits: Before 1981, children of retired, deceased, or disabled workers continued receiving benefits through age 22 if they attended college. Now benefits end once a young person turns 18 and finishes high school. Reinstating college benefits could help children and their families achieve their dreams and reduce socioeconomic barriers to lifetime opportunities.

Adopting the CPI-E inflation index: Over the past eight years, the current COLA formula has led to average monthly benefit increases of just over 1 percent per year. Costs for Medicare and other essentials are rising faster than that. Adopting the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E, would be a more accurate means of calculating adequate Social Security COLAs.

Restoring office access & services: The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) expenses are self-funded and account for less than one penny of every dollar spent. While demand for SSA services (and staff workloads) have risen to record highs, over the past six years, the SSA’s operating budget has shrunk by 10 percent (after adjusting for inflation) due to Congressional budget cuts. This has resulted in the closure of one field office and the loss of 776 employees in Washington. Restoring full funding would help ensure people have dependable and easily accessible in-person service at Social Security offices.

Take a minute to get in touch with your elected representatives in the House and Senate – no matter their political stripes – to remind them that Social Security is important to you and your community, and to encourage them to sign on to legislation that will expand and improve Social Security.

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