NJFAC Social Security Packet and Links

Social Security links
What Is Social Security?
What Really Supports the Elderly?
Social Security: What’s in It for Younger People?
Una Prueba: ¿Que Le Ofrece El Seguro Social A Las Personas Jovenes?
Packet Summary–English [Below–August 2023]; Español [August 2001]


The numbers in most of the articles above are outdated, but the arguments are not.

A Social Security Packet: Summary and Update [rev. 1/24] Español [August 2001]

Social Security, the government program that has extended modest security to generations of Americans of all ages, has been chronically under attack at least since the Reagan Administration. That Administration and its Congressional supporters from both parties increased the retirement age and raised the payroll tax enough to swell the Trust Fund. Unable to destroy a successful and popular program directly, conservatives, who have fought it since its inception in 1935, tried unsuccessfully to privatize it during the Bush Administration. Now they make the false claim that it is financially unsustainable.  Many liberals agree with them, that a crisis is inevitable without changes that reduce benefits.

This argument, which began during the Clinton era, has accelerated as government deficits rose for reasons other than Social Security: a bloated military budget; the Bush and Trump tax cuts; high unemployment following the fiscal crisis; stagnant wages and rising inequality for decades, with consequent impact on revenues; and a mostly private medical care system that is largely publicly funded, one far more expensive than those of other industrial countries.  Until 2010, benefits were entirely financed from payroll taxes. At first, beneficiaries were paid in part from the interest on the Trust Fund [1], which holds surpluses.  Fund assets reached a peak of $2.8 trillion in 2020 and since then have declined. Use of the Trust Fund [2] means that Social Security, after many years of help in cutting the deficit, adds [3] to it in a very modest way. However, to accuse Social Security of adding to the deficit is the same as accusing other holders of Treasury securities, private individuals, corporations, and foreign governments who want to redeem them. Though the Fund was said to provide security for beneficiaries, its use has generated hysteria about the health of Social Security. Social Security would be healthier with adequate wage growth and less inequality.

The program serves a far larger population than retirees, including many disabled persons and the families of retired and deceased and disabled persons. Any changes made in Social Security should expand its protections, especially as many private pensions are inadequate or unaffordable for many.[4] Many workers have negligible retirement savings and no pension.

The articles:

  • Expose the phony Social Security “crisis” by showing that Social Security is fiscally sound with minor adjustment, able to support a growing elderly population, is not the source of the deficit, and that the Trust Fund is safe.
  • Show how Social Security benefits the entire U. S. population, reduces poverty, and is especially important not only to the elderly but also to children as well as to women, minorities and other lower-wage workers, and young workers, who lack adequate retirement assets.
  • Explain why reducing Social Security for future retirees is not only unjust and unwise, but is unnecessary and rather should be increased.
  • Point out how Social Security can both remain fiscally secure and be strengthened.

Social Security works best as a pay-as-you-go program. Its surpluses must be spent, or they will become an economic drag, so they have, for example, funded federal spending and tax cuts. The needs of the future cannot be met by taxes now; these needs must be satisfied with the workers, machines, and technology available then. Our economy can only prepare for the future by investing in these resources to raise future output and protect the environment so that resources are capable of supplying the needed goods. Piling up monetary surpluses can’t meet future needs. [See “What Really Supports the Elderly?] [5] Better to meet its current funding needs by raising the income cap on the payroll tax [6]. Wage lag and inequality have reduced taxes that would otherwise be paid to the Trust Fund. [7]

Strengthening Social Security

Increasing public investment to maintain and increase productive capabilities and Jobs for All at living wages, the proposal of the National Jobs for All Network–to bring together workers needing good jobs with our unmet social needs, will provide a strong economic foundation for financing Social Security and other social programs. This is the basis for a productive economy which serves our needs and permits more generous Social Security benefits in response to the inadequate private pensions of many workers.

It is time to increase Social Security, especially for the poorest workers.  Past eras of “reform” have led to Social Security cuts: the age of eligibility for full benefits gradually increased.  It will be the full 67 for workers who reach 62 after 2022. This change is equivalent to approximately a 12 percent cut in benefits for these workers. Another roughly 10 percent cut after 20 years of retirement for the typical retiree comes from reduced inflation adjustments. [8]

Original prepared by Social Security Task Force: Robb Burlage, Eleanor Kremen, Helen Lachs Ginsburg, Laura Piil, June Zaccone, Editor, Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Chair, July 18, 2001

Revision and update July 2023, slightly edited, 1/24 June Zaccone.  © The National Jobs for All Network

[1] Fund revenues come from payroll taxes on employees, their employers, and the earnings of the self-employed, and payments to SS recipients and expenses usually are covered by payroll taxes. The excess of revenues over payments accumulated in the Fund, in the form of special Treasury bonds, and can be tapped if a year’s payroll taxes are insufficient to pay recipients.

[2] https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/2023/VI_A_cyoper_hist.html#282924

[3]When interest on the Social Security bonds is paid, unless the budget is in balance, borrowing must rise by the amount of the interest, as it must for all government bonds regardless of who owns them.

[4] About half of private sector workers participate in an employment-based retirement plan, mostly one to which they contribute.

[5] As Robert Eisner describes this, “Although we can save and invest now in more ovens that will be useful at a future time, the bread dependents eat at any time must be baked by those working then. Retirees cannot eat balances in Social Security trust funds, or stocks and bonds, or cash. In a real sense, for the economy as a whole, retirement benefits are thus always supplied on a pay-as-you-go basis.” https://theelderlawjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/3-Dont-Sock-the-Elderly-Help-Them-Old-Age-Is-Hard-Enough.pdf

[6] For 2023, the maximum taxable earnings is $160,200. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/maxtax.html

[7] “This upward redistribution… has shifted a large amount of wage income to workers earning above the cap. [This] rose from 10 percent in 1983 to 18 percent in recent years. Similarly, the shift from wage income to profits in the last 14 years has also deprived the system of revenue. The other reason this shift is important is that it has kept wages from growing in step with productivity. If the typical worker’s wages had risen in step with productivity since 1980 they would be more than 30 percent higher today.” Dean Baker, Beat the Press blog, Sept 2014….” if policymakers had maintained Social Security’s payroll tax after 1983 so that it continued to cover 90 percent of earnings—instead of letting its coverage shrink to less than 83 percent as inequality has risen—the combined retirement and disability trust funds would have been larger by more than $1.3 trillion by the end of 2016.” https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/news/2018/02/15/446672/rising-inequality-threatening-health-social-security/

[8] http://cepr.net/blogs/cepr-blog/time-to-increase-social-security-benefits-for-low-and-moderate-wage-earners