Commentary: Social Security remains outside government’s attention
By Gene Kemmeter
Is anyone going to take action to protect Social Security for the future?
The program began in 1935 through a law passed by Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression to offer emergency relief conditions to the elderly whose poverty rates exceeded 50 percent. The funds for the program are realized by a tax split between the employers and workers.
Republicans have long offered the creation of personal accounts – money invested in stocks and bonds – as a supplement to guaranteed government payments, but support for the proposal has wavered because of the volatility of investments through private vendors instead of guaranteed results.
In the last presidential election, candidates from both parties pledged to their elderly supporters and grandparents that they would keep Social Security going in order to win their votes. They’ve been doing that for years, despite repeated warnings that the system needs reinforcement, or it will run out of funds in the near future.
Retirees are finding the increasing cost of health care is really eating away any annual increased revenues based on the annual inflation rate. Plus the cost of supplemental insurance premiums is rising, along with increased deductibles.
This week, another troubling study indicates that vanishing pensions, soaring medical expenses and inadequate savings are hitting older Americans who had been planning for retirement in the last three decades as the government and employers has worked to shift the financial risk to individuals.
New research indicates the rate of people 65 and older filing for bankruptcy is three times what it was in 1991. From February 2013 to November 2016, there were 3.6 bankruptcy filers per 1,000 people 65 to 74; in 1991, there were 1.2. They also represent a widening slice of all filers: 12.2 percent of filers are now 65 or older, up from 2.1 percent in 1991.
This situation comes during a time when they have waited longer for full Social Security benefits, replaced their employer-provided pensions with 401(k) savings plans and assumed more out-of-pocket spending on health care. They’ve also felt the impact of declining incomes, whether in retirement or leading up to it.
The personal savings plans failed to reach expectations pitched by investors, particularly during the Recession, and the burgeoning cost of health care has reduced those savings after serious illnesses struck.
Social Security is a pay-as-you go system, where the money contributed by today’s workers and their employers pays for retirees’ benefits. The separate personal accounts would leave a hole in the system that would have to be filled by heavy borrowing, plus raises the issue of who guarantees that investment will be a reasonable alternative, not subject to the fluctuations of today.
Will there be even more elderly living in poverty in the future through failure of the government to act?