Some Popular Proposals Would Devastate Many Seniors, but Alternatives Exist
The most likely deficit reduction proposals are also the most harmful to the nation’s elderly, according to The Senior Citizens League (TSCL), one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan senior citizens advocacy groups. However, a few alternatives exist that would reduce the budget in less painful ways.
Some of the most talked-about plans – using a “chained” consumer price index to calculate annual cost-of-living adjustments, cutting the payroll tax, and reducing benefits for people who are currently retired or nearing retirement – would devastate many of the most vulnerable seniors.
The less painful alternatives are: bringing new state and local workers into the Social Security system, gradually raising the payroll tax cap to its originally intended level, and raising the retirement age.
Three Proposals We Oppose:
1. Cutting Benefits for Current Retirees or Any Americans Over Age 50: Many current retirees are already struggling financially, and people need adequate time to plan and prepare for changes to something as important as Social Security.
2. Unrealistic Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLAs): COLAs are already inadequate: Seniors have lost almost one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to a recent TSCL study. In that period, COLAs increased just 31 percent, while typical senior expenses jumped 73 percent, more than twice as fast. There is talk of using a “chained” CPI to calculate COLAs. But the spending patterns assumed by the “chained” CPI don’t apply as well to seniors, who spend a larger percentage of their income on necessities that aren’t as conducive to substitution. Billed as a mere "technical correction,” a TSCL analysis shows that using a “chained” CPI to calculate COLAs would in fact slash payments by more than $18,000 over a 25-year retirement (for a senior with average benefits retiring this year).
3. Extending The Payroll Tax Cuts: Employees’ Social Security payroll taxes were reduced by 2 to 4.2 percent in December. Because it makes the Social Security trust funds reliant on general revenues, it would jeopardize the Administration’s ability to fully pay Social Security benefits now, especially as we approach the August 2nd debt limit.
Three Proposals We Support
1. Bringing Newly Hired State and Local Workers Into The Social Security System: Currently 96 percent of U.S. workers are covered by Social Security; most of the remaining four percent are covered by federal, state and local pension plans and do not contribute to Social Security. Bringing newly hired state and local workers into the system by 2021 would make Social Security more inclusive and increase its revenues. This proposal would close about eight percent of the program’s 75-year shortfall.
2. Gradually Raising the Payroll Tax Cap: The payroll tax cap has not kept pace with changing income patterns over the past few decades, so it makes sense to adjust the maximum taxable wages to realign them with the originally intended level. Gradually raising the cap to cover 90 percent of the nation’s taxable earnings by 2050 would allow it to once again represent the same percentage of that figure that it did as recently as the early 1980s (before the income of top earners began increasing disproportionately).
3. Raising the Retirement Age: People are living longer now, and gradually raising the retirement age would bring Social Security benefits in line with this new reality. This would close between 15 and 21 percent of the program’s long-term shortfall. We would not support any proposal that would cut the benefits of today’s beneficiaries.
“The combination of lower benefits and higher expenses in recent years means many more seniors are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Larry Hyland, chairman of The Senior Citizens League. “We agree that Social Security must be reformed in order to make it sustainable. But let’s do it in a thoughtful way, so seniors who worked hard and paid their dues aren’t suddenly thrown to the wolves. We already have members telling us about elderly friends who are foregoing cancer treatments because they can’t afford them and don’t want to saddle their surviving spouse with the bills; for such folks, some of the reform proposals would simply be too much to bear.”
Almost 70 percent of beneficiaries depend on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their income. Social Security is the sole source of income for 15 percent of beneficiaries.
Given the importance, changes to Social Security should ideally be made only after a full and open debate, separate from the debt limit negotiations. Any changes should be kept as small as possible and phased in over the longest possible period, and they should not affect people who are currently over 50 years of age.
With 1.2 million supporters, The Senior Citizens League is one of the nation’s largest nonpartisan seniors groups. Its mission is to promote and assist members and supporters, to educate and alert senior citizens about their rights and freedoms as U.S. Citizens, and to protect and defend the benefits senior citizens have earned and paid for. The Senior Citizens League is a proud affiliate of The Retired Enlisted Association. Visit www.SeniorsLeague.org or call 1-800-333-8725 for more information.