Prejudicial Views on Social Security

Seeing that I’m among the younger set that supports President Bush’s Social Security plan, I take umbrage at Froma Harrop’s condescention:

The folks are going to stop the kids from doing something stupid. Many have known world war and a great depression. They saw the pitiful old people that Social Security lifted from the gutter. And they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about retirement.
So what if the young people are receptive to letting go of guaranteed benefits? They’re also more receptive to hang-gliding and riding motorcycles in the rain.
Besides, the children are too busy to focus on the debate over privatizing Social Security. They are working long hours and raising families. To them, retirement seems unimaginably far off.

Let’s stop there. Harrop doesn’t define “kids,” but since they’re “working long hours and raising families,” I imagine it would be safe to extend the category out to, say, thirty-five. That seems a little too old for dismissal as a bunch of uninformed hang-gliders — especially if we back up to a previous paragraph with a curious echo to the one just quoted:

The people don’t want [the President’s plan]. They want a benefit that, however modest, is guaranteed. And they see no need to “save” a program that’s fine until 2042 — and may not need much fixing even then.

Myself as a hard-working, family-raising kid, I’ll be sixty-seven that year. If it makes sense to plan for retirement at all, it makes sense to consider the state of Social Security around the time that I may (or may not) manage to retire. And actually looking at the poll that Harrop leverages for a quip suggests that I’m not alone in my concern. When she scoffs at the “mere 17 percent” who believe that a “crisis” looms, she conveniently ignores that another 55% believe that the system “has major problems.” Although she attributes skepticism about the amount of required fixing in 2042 to a vague “they,” 64% of the poll’s respondents “think the Social Security system will… be bankrupt” that year.
Other results from the poll offer another lens through which to view Harrop’s statement that the “President’s plan to privatize Social Security is clearly headed for political oblivion.” Just a couple of months into a major education campaign on the issue, there’s obviously a great deal of thinking that can still be forced. It’s true that 55% think allowing “people who retire in future decades to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and bonds” would be a “bad idea.” However, that percentage is less than the “bad idea” scores for:

  • “Further reducing the total amount of benefits a person would receive if they retired early” (57% bad idea)
  • “Increasing Social Security taxes for all workers” (60%)
  • “Increasing the age at which people are eligible to receive full benefits” (63%)
  • “Reducing retirement benefits for people who are currently under age 55” (67%)

Take particular note of that last one. Given a better understanding of the options that are actually available, perhaps the 30% who believe that “most Americans would receive higher Social Security benefits than the government would provide” were they allowed to invest now would match or surpass the 40% who think their benefits would have been higher if they had invested a portion of their lifetime Social Security taxes already. If there’s that much skepticism about the future of this nation’s economy, it oughtn’t be difficult to make citizens question how the government will find the money that is supposedly “guaranteed.”
Froma Harrop may wish to convince her readers that “the quest to privatize Social Security is truly a lost cause,” but I suspect that we kids will have the stubbornness of geezers if admitting a “lost cause” makes one of our retirement. Perhaps Harrop and the rest of our elders should ask themselves whether the young’ns are truly uninformed or are just less able to see 2042 as a year that might never come.

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Bill Felkner
19 years ago

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was speaking on NPR this morning and mentioned how the new social security plan could provide income to future generations via inheritance of the newly privatized funds.
If Jesse Jackson were to preach that $XX,XXX,XXX will be poured into low income areas by this program, the support would be tremendous. Statistically speaking black men die before collecting their benefits. Thus their contributions to the system eventually provide funds for white women (who work less than men and live the longest).
I think this can be a good push appealing to minorities as well as a great way to solidify the Hispanic republican votes. They are a hard working bunch and would benefit greatly from this.
Maybe the system is not perfect as currently written but we need to identify these strengths and build on them.

19 years ago

Great piece! i must admit to being one of the kids who hasn’t thought about the President’s proposal.
I do admit that I like the security of a ‘guaranteed’ income once I retire and that is something that will always be a concern with any type of Social Security Reform.
And it’s a valid concern for more reasons than security. Consider the tax cuts the President implemented during his first two years. That put money back into the hands of ‘the people’ but many of those people have not the skill, resource, or time to take that money and save for their futures. Unfortunately, that’s a consequence of our economic structure sans financial educational tools for the masses.
So, for me, any change in Social Security needs to address the least among us. Otherwise, we’re just creating more headaches for America when those of us kids reach retirement age.

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