By any estimation, it is one of this nation’s most successful attempts, legislative or otherwise, to better Americans’ lives. With this Franklin D. Roosevelt-era program, million of Americans are able to live comfortably when they retire. Without it, a great many of retirement-age Americans would see their quality of life greatly diminished in their final years.
By no means is it a perfect program. Its long-term fiscal shortfall means substantive policy changes are needed. It doesn’t provide wealth, especially to those who paid into the system while working decades at low-wage jobs. It’s common for low- and middle-income American retirees to work part-time to make up for what Social Security doesn’t cover.
But it is invaluable.
On Thursday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a report on Social Security’s impact on modern America. For those who think it is a dying program that no longer is fiscally or politically needed in this nation, the report’s data beg you to think otherwise.
• Social Security contributes on average two-thirds of income for recipients aged 65 and over.
• A majority of Hispanics and a near-majority of black recipients rely on Social Security for more than 90 percent of their income.
• In 2011, more than 21 million Americans were rescued from poverty by Social Security benefits, including nearly 15 million people aged 65 and over.
• And, for a point of reference, it’s important to note that the average monthly Social Security benefit check is $1,300; only 9 percent get more than $2,000 a month, and only 1 percent gets more than $2,500. As the Center’s data show, those figures are extremely low by international standards.
Whenever discussion in Washington turns to reforming Social Security, conservative and radical thinkers propose all sorts of alterations, some of which would decimate the program and harm millions of recipients. That can’t be allowed to happen.
Social Security needs protection, if not expansion as the economy improves. May it live on to see many more birthdays.