Social Security is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It provides stable income to fully one quarter of American households – in good economic times and bad. For most seniors, Social Security is the biggest source of income. Millions of children and younger adults who are no longer able to work because of a disability also receive income and have access to far greater opportunities because of Social Security.
This recession would have been far more devastating without the steady flow of Social Security dollars into every community. Seniors, children, working-age adults, and main street businesses are all doing better because of Social Security. With traditional pensions in sharp decline, job security evaporating, and savings and home values fluctuating wildly, Social Security will be even more important for most Americans in coming decades.
Despite its importance to all Americans, and the fact that Social Security is more solidly financed than any federal program, some members of Congress are pushing proposals to cut benefits. And many younger Americans wonder if Social Security will be there for them after the baby boomers’ retirement.
With Tea Party activism and deficit-hawk mania dominating the headlines, the political threat to Social Security is real. We could lose the program that has done more than any other to build up economic security and a platform for opportunity for Americans from all walks of life – just at the point when America’s fading middle class, working families, and seniors need it most.
It’s time to take the offense. With these modest updates, Social Security will work even better for Americans of all ages through the 21st century:
1. Let the 2% payroll tax holiday expire after 2011 and eliminate the cap on taxable payroll. Hedge fund managers, corporate CEOs, and plastic surgeons should pay their fair share for supporting their family members and the community that has made them wealthy.
2. Raise benefits. Good as Social Security is, people who earn low or middle wages end up with benefits that are too low. Childcare teachers, restaurant workers, grocery clerks, and others deserve basic dignity in old age.
3. Recognize modern family structures. Family care credits, higher benefits for elderly widows and widowers, and recognition of same sex partners will make the system more fair – and boost benefits for those who rely most heavily on Social Security.