End the retirement crisis by increasing Social Security benefits

Yes, you read that right: End the retirement crisis by increasing Social Security benefits now.

There is a retirement crisis, and the only part of the solution that’s in government hands is Social Security benefits. If government really want to “promote the general welfare” — instead of the welfare of our lords and masters — it can act now by increasing benefits.

Paul Krugman explains in a striking, plain-spoken column:

Paul krugman

Paul Krugman

Expanding Social Security
For many years there has been one overwhelming rule for people who wanted to be considered serious inside the Beltway. It was this: You must declare your willingness to cut Social Security in the name of “entitlement reform.” … But a funny thing has happened in the past year or so. Suddenly, we’re hearing open discussion of the idea that Social Security should be expanded, not cut.

What’s driving this change, he asks?

America’s overall retirement system is in big trouble. There’s just one part of that system that’s working well: Social Security. And this suggests that we should make that program stronger, not weaker.

It’s that simple. Krugman discusses other aspects of the push to increase benefits, but his key points are these. After noting that the most accurate measure puts today’s senior poverty rate at just below 15%, he adds (my emphasis and paragraphing):

Will you settle for what they offer you? Class War Kitteh says, "Stand up for more." You have permission.

Will you settle for what they offer you? Class War Kitteh says, “Stand up for more.” You have permission.

When you look at today’s older Americans, you are in large part looking at the legacy of an economy that is no more. Many workers used to have defined-benefit retirement plans, plans in which their employers guaranteed a steady income after retirement. … Today, however, workers who have any retirement plan at all generally have defined-contribution plans — basically, 401(k)’s — in which employers put money into a tax-sheltered account that’s supposed to end up big enough to retire on.

The trouble is that at this point it’s clear that the shift to 401(k)’s was a gigantic failure. Employers took advantage of the switch to surreptitiously cut benefits; investment returns have been far lower than workers were told to expect; and, to be fair, many people haven’t managed their money wisely. … For many, the only thing protecting them from abject penury will be Social Security. Aren’t you glad we didn’t privatize the program?

“Tens of millions of Americans face a sharp decline,” he says, while the companies who forced this change are doing just fine.

He doesn’t say it, but I will. America is a a crossroads (actually, many of them). Will we promote the general welfare or keep the billionaires happy? The country won’t tolerate the latter, and the billionaires — and their paid politicians — won’t tolerate the former. Collision coming, with strong voices in the Senate leading the charge.

By the way, to pay for these increases, just raise the salary cap that most people don’t know exists. Let the rich pay their share, like they do with Medicare. That solves most of the funding problem in one smart move. The rest includes funding tweaks that most people strongly prefer.

There’s a sudden increase in the calls for increasing benefits

The calls to raise Social Security benefits are increasing as a surprising rate.

First, the Harkin bill in the Senate (S. 567).

Then people like Sherrod Brown signing on.

Then Elizabeth Warren (below) in full-throated agreement:

http://youtu.be/z3AvoogVvS0

Thanks especially to Warren and now Krugman, the tide against retirement austerity is turning. Help it turn some more. Call your Congress person and ask:

Where do you stand on America’s retirement crisis?
Where do you stand on the Harkin bill, S. 567?
Do you stand with Elizabeth Warren on fixing the retirement crisis?

Senate phone numbers here. House phone numbers here.

And if you happen to be standing next Hillary Clinton at the bus stop, feel free to ask her too. After all, she may be the only voice that counts in just a couple of months — unless something changes, that is.

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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49 Responses to “End the retirement crisis by increasing Social Security benefits”

  1. LEFTIE COWARDS says:

    I really hate COWARDS like the one that runs this site. I hate it when a dissenting view joins a conversation and you can’t handle it so you prevent them from posting on your small minded one way blog that, by the way, is a place for COWARDS who don’t want to have a discussion about the issues. It is one way for you lefties. NO DISSENTING OPINION WILL BE HEARD. Sounds more like NAZI GERMANY or the former Soviet Union than the USA. But be a COWARD. Maybe you should move to IRAN or North Korea because that is the way you want it. The government propaganda is the only news that is acceptable. KEEP PUSHING THE LIES. Because if you repeat them enough times they become the truth. COWARD….

  2. masaccio68 says:

    Let’s raise taxes on the filthy rich. And while we’re at it, we should start taxing corporate persons, say above 10 million in revenues. And we should tax trusts and endowments that hold more than say 10 million.

    Screw the filthy rich and take their money.

  3. Chad Casale says:

    And how will this increase be paid for pray tell? SS will be insolvent by 2033 and increasing benefits will only cause the date to move up. Unless of course you are looking for tax increases to pay for this?

  4. Piper says:

    I looked up the non-paraphrased quote for accuracy “I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3 if we haven’t
    resolved this issue, because there may simply not be the money in the
    coffers to do it,”
    If Obama was telling the truth, Social Security is not funded without debt. If he was lying, then we are still in good shape.

  5. Piper says:

    “If we don’t raise the debt limit, seniors won’t receive Social Security checks” -POTUS
    That pretty much says it all. How much more proof do you want?

  6. izzyabby says:

    The game of tantalizing others with phony pipe dreams, like more money each month, lower costs for health insurance and keeping your doctors, period, have run their course.

    Only the truly foolish place faith in politicians and celebrity commentators.

    Bankrupt America borrows and creates funny money just to continue the mirage of solvency.

    People will always want more for themselves, especially when it’s someone else’s money, and the devious will always make fraudulent promises to scam their victims.

    As long as greed is as common as dirt with rich and poor, the American debtor nation death spiral will continually accelerate, leaving disaster for any surviving future generations, with the electorate clamoring for more phony scam artists to run the dying machine into the ground.

    Cognitive dissonance is a cliche, and as real as the nose on your face.

  7. Really good point, well written article

  8. crazymonkeylady says:

    A fool’s dream.

  9. Dennis says:

    Unfair to those of us who make over the cap but under the 250 thousand wealth line
    we get to pay thousands more in social security tax and get nothing for it
    the real wealthy won’t pay this – they take their earnings in capitol gains not salary
    professional people who work their butt’s off to do a little better are the real victims of this tax
    Why not buy a few less tanks that the army doesn’t want instead?
    Oh because that benefits ‘wealthy’ defense contractors – Corporations, the real constituents of congress

  10. karmanot says:

    “I clearly agreed that Social Security should be expanded.” Agreed! :-)

  11. jomicur says:

    My native skepticism tells me this will never happen. And I speak as a Social Security recipient. Even if the Harkin bill passes, which strikes me as wildly unlikely, And even if it passes, it won’t get a veto-proof majority. I can’t imagine Obama permitting it to become law. You know–Obama, who has said multiple times that CUTS to Social Security are on the table; and who is giving us a piddling (not to say Insulting) 1.5% COLA this year. President Barack “My Hero Is Ronald Reagan/I’m a Moderate Republican” Obama has made it quite clear that he’s not interested in solving the retirement crisis, except possibly for the retirement of CEOs and his other golf buddies. And it’s hard for me to believe Hillary would be any different. (And that’s not to say I haven’t already called my senators about it. Futility can be fun.)

  12. Luigi DaMan says:

    All ready on it. My Senator Sherrod Brown became a co-sponsor a few weeks back. We must expand Social Security, or your cat food joke will become a mainstay reality for retirees. Myself included. 401K’s are a joke, by the way. Main is now run by madman Jamie Dimon. Yeah, sure. It’s secure.

  13. GarySFBCN says:

    You’re welcome!

  14. Harry says:

    Where did I blame seniors for the shortfall? The comment I made was only a reflection of the fact that for many social security is insufficient to support their lifestyle and to address that other sources of income may be required. I clearly agreed that Social Security should be expanded.

  15. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s not possible for an Obama supporter to belittle anyone.

  16. Badgerite says:

    Certainly for those of us not of the 1%, one has to breath a sigh of relief that he did not ‘succeed’. Social Security is more important for people now than it has been for decades.

  17. Whitewitch says:

    Totally!

  18. GarySFBCN says:

    You know how I feel about you, so I don’t have to belittle you in public.

    But it is with 100% sincerity that I present you this horrifying article. While we may disagree with the underlying motives, the bleak outcome is probably the same. Maybe you can use it in your arsenal.

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/silicon-chasm_768037.html

  19. RyansTake says:

    It’s not about “bailing out” seniors or people about to become seniors, it’s about “bailing out” this country from a system that didn’t work. Seniors who’ve worked all their lives, made trillions for corporate America during that time and were paid a pittance of that value for it, need to be adequately compensated. This is just about ensuring they are compensated for it. It’s almost like “clawing back” some of that money they should have been paid toward their retirement to begin with.

  20. GarySFBCN says:

    This makes sense and, politics aside, would be so EASY to increase and expand. And yet we are stuck the myth that private retirement accounts are better because they “aren’t ‘communist” or something.

    Getting people to vote for their own self interest is difficult in this country.

  21. Bill_Perdue says:

    The best solution is a series of constitutional amendments that provide for socialized medicine, interest free good housing, guaranteed incomes at high trade union levels for active, retired and student workers and for single heads of household.

    Those goals can be accomplished by a 100% tax on any income over $250,000.00 per year from any source (except the sale or transfer of the homes of workers) and by an accompanying law confiscating the wealth of any person, including corporate ‘persons’. who hide their money overseas. Those laws and one that makes it a capital offense to plot or lie to involve the US in wars of aggression will provide all the funds needed and enough to jump start the economy with a multitrillion dollar Manhattan Project to green the economy and infrastructure.

    Democrats and Republicans, who are the enemies of working people, will never adopt any of those proposals. Socialists will.

  22. karmanot says:

    Agree: Yep, sink money into a 401 and pay 75% in fees in the long haul.

  23. karmanot says:

    Oh for Christ’s sake blaming the victims for shortfall senior poverty. Most of us did it right:saved invested, 401s and more. Many of us are highly educated, professional, and have excellent work histories to now find ourselves at the bottom of George Bush’s economic collapse, or bankrupted by health crises before reaching 65. I know you mean well, but I don’t want to hear seniors deserve their fate.

  24. cole3244 says:

    your companion obviously loves you a lot and i like the capital W & R.

  25. nicho says:

    Yeah, a lot of people did save in 401Ks — and then watched as their accounts lost 75 percent of their value and the money was given to the bankers to bail them out from their financial mistakes.

  26. Whitewitch says:

    So those that you admit could never save, well screw them, we only care about the wealthy or the upper middle class anyway right? My work requires we attend the “retirement planning” seminars provided by our 401K plan…the plan manager told me to save 40% of my income so I could “catch-up”. Right and eat what, live where?

    Those planners are one trick ponies – it is not about Education…it is about getting our money as fast as they can.

  27. Whitewitch says:

    Exactly – it was the point and they are bummed they missed their chance to keep us all wage slaves with no alternative but accept crappy Wal Mart type jobs when the job market was flooded with old workers and incoming new workers. The sad thing is that many older people (especially women who are not big wage earners) continue to work because they can not live on Social Security – at ALL. Imagine a person who does not own their own home – which they paid off over their 30 year mortage….you can’t even pay rent on may SS incomes.

  28. Harry says:

    It is true that it may be difficult or even impossible for those who are just getting by to save for retirement but there are many others who just do not think about it (and can afford to save) until it is upon them. And education about retirement planning never hurt anyone and will probably help many.

  29. Whitewitch says:

    My companion calls me a pinko commie…if the shoe fits I say Wear It with Rhinestones!

  30. Whitewitch says:

    You are kidding right Harry? I never had enough to put away for “retirement” – funny how children just insist on eating and the landlord gets so darn pissy if I don’t pay the rent.

    Education is not an answer to the many working at Wal Mart – now is it?

  31. Harry says:

    Social Security should be expanded. But what is really important to get retirement on track is to make retirement planning education mandatory starting in grade school. One of the things that must be taught is that social security should be viewed as one source of income not the only source once retired. I was just reading several posts and pages on finance on the site Retirement And Good Living. There is a great deal of information related to this on the web and it is not very difficult to educate yourself.

  32. emjayay says:

    And all of his successes were actually huge failures.

  33. emjayay says:

    The carbon tax (which of course we don’t have) is just one example of making the particular industry pay something for the externalities they now cause but don’t pay anything for. Right now mostly everyone has to pay for the EPA to police everything. Superfund sites in many cases are able to go after the perps, but that is after, usually way after, the fact. I’m all for the ideas you proposed and any others that make sense. Has any of this kind of stuff ever been proposed by anyone or in effect for anything? Do other countries do any of this? So far we mainly do the prohibition side but not the charging side.

    I’ve suggested something similar for imports. Right now part of the reason that Chinese and elsewhere manufacturing is cheaper is no or not enforced pollution laws of all kinds. To make the plastic crap Chinese manufacturers may be poisoning the air, water, ground, and their workers. Some import tariffs based on pollution caused compared to here and Europe should be imposed. After all, we all pay for a lot of the externalities in the end and it’s all of our earth.

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  35. cole3244 says:

    i was fairly con when very young but have been an extreme pinko lefty ever since.

    in todays america bill clinton is a liberal lol!

  36. BeccaM says:

    Works for me.

  37. MichaelS says:

    I have one change to that — why does everyone insist on this most-conservative of ideas… a FLAT TAX (which is what the FICA tax is) to fund Social Security? Right now it’s the single most regressive tax we have — the percentage of income paid in this tax is MUCH higher for lower-income folks than it is for higher-income — mostly due to the cap. End the cap, and it helps a lot. But it still ends up being the conservatives’ wet dream of a flat tax. I’d go one step further… end the cap, and then graduated the FICA tax rate, perhaps from a low of around 3% (instead of the current 6.2% for employees) up to around 8% for the uber-wealthy.

  38. fletcher says:

    A lot of people are in the same situation noted in the 1932 Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper editorial cartoon. It had a squirrel lecturing a shabbily dressed man on a park bench. “You should have saved for the future for when times get tough,” says the squirrel. “That’s just it. I did!” replies the man putting his face in his hands.

  39. Badgerite says:

    GW considers that the only issue that he failed on. Really, he does. And he said that after the economic meltdown of 2008.

  40. BeccaM says:

    Not only all that, but a Social Security expansion would be a massive economic stimulus.

    I’m all for it: Lower the retirement age back to where it was (and should have stayed, because the life expectancy of those who actually NEED Social Security hasn’t budged in generations). Increase benefits. Use the CPI-E cost-of-living measure. Pay for it by removing the payroll income tax cap, get rid of the carried interest deduction (and make money market managers pay their fare share like the rest of us), and institute that miniscule financial transactions tax — which, by the way, other countries have tried and found it does a wonderful job of reducing high-speed robo-trading, thereby adding additional stability to the markets.

  41. BeccaM says:

    Actually, the recession very nearly did wipe us out. There literally was no safe place for the non-wealthy to store retirement savings, except by dropping it into nearly 0% bank accounts, and watch inflation slowly erode it into nothing.

    We lost about half of our retirement investment savings. Why? Because one of the things 401(k) plans are designed to do is to keep a person from adjusting to changing markets quickly. Not that it especially would’ve mattered, since even the ‘safe’ money market funds were hammered.

  42. MyrddinWilt says:

    What Gaius is saying is that the federal government should bail out all the people who haven’t saved enough for their retirement.

    What does he think they are? Banks?

    I am all for this and for raising taxes on the 1% to pay for it. The GOP plan was all along to push through a huge tax cut for the 0.01% and then use the resulting deficit as an excuse to steal our pensions. I want more than just stopping their scheme, I want consequences so they might even get the idea that they shouldn’t try again.

    I’ll go further. The federal government is currently spending a lot of money shutting down offshore gambling. That activity mostly benefits state lotteries and casino operators. I think it is high time that there was a national levy on profits from gambling.

    And extractive industries should face surtaxes to pay for the damage they cause to the environment. Especially paper production. Why do we need all these disposable paper cups everywhere? A 2 cent tax on every cup would make people think twice about disposables.

    If those taxes don’t close the gap, how about a surtax on employers who pay wages so low that people have to turn to welfare? The only reason Walmart can pay such low wages is that they get the government to make up the difference. So how about a surtax of $1000 per employee for any company with over 1000 employees that are paid less than $10/hr. That would pull in a billion a year from Walmart alone.

  43. usagi says:

    The Great Recession would have wiped out the retirement nest-egg of countless millions of Americans whether working or retired.

    You say it like that wasn’t the point of privatizing Social Security in the first place.

  44. Indigo says:

    I used to be a liberal but now I’m a radical. I didn’t change my thinking, the public measuring stick changed.

  45. Indigo says:

    ” If government really want to “promote the general welfare” — instead
    of the welfare of our lords and masters — it can act now by increasing
    benefits.”

    That’s a might big “if” and I’m entirely persuaded that we already know that “the welfare of our lords and masters’ is our current government’s only genuine concern.

  46. ArthurH says:

    I’ve always been amazed at how the conservatives want to push ordinary people who have no knowledge of investing or the stock market into risking their savings into those institutions. The whole privatizing Social Security thing was merely about delivering sheep to the wolves of Wall Street and moving our money to the 1% faster. Fortunately nobody was buying it in 2005 no matter how they tried to drum up support. A moment of comedy on this issue occurred on the Tucker Carlson program on PBS at that time, where he repeated agreed with a spokesman for The Fund For Growth, who argued that all the young people were eager to take their Social Security money and invest it in the Stock Market where it would get a better return. The Fund guy even reported that on college campuses students were burning their Social Security cards in protest. I checked the Internet afterwards and found no reports of any such card burnings. But then I wasn’t living in Right-Wing Fantasy Land.

  47. cole3244 says:

    warren started off aggressively and it seems to have gotten others to get their voice on progressive (liberal) issues.
    i hesitate to use liberal which i call myself because of the timidness of the left in using that label.
    i am proud to be called liberal and others will be eventually.

  48. Badgerite says:

    Kudos where kudos are due. Excellent post.

  49. Hue-Man says:

    Imagine where we’d be if W had successfully privatized Social Security! The Great Recession would have wiped out the retirement nest-egg of countless millions of Americans whether working or retired.

    The fatal flaw in these schemes to put individuals in charge of their retirement funds – whether IRAs, 401(K)s, or privatized Social Security – is that the entire system is run by the 1% for the benefit of the 1%ers. Start with the “investment adviser” whose agenda is not congruent with the small investor. Add the fees that are charged to manage and handle the acccount transactions. Then comes the lack of investment acumen of the small investor (I can say this despite my business degree and working in the financial world for 3 decades: no investment decision is straightforward or easy). Finally, the unexpected, regular stock market crashes wipe out the equity of the small investor. (Don’t get me started on the zero interest rate environment that mostly benefits the banks…)

    I personally would prefer Big Brother guarantee me a decent income in my retirement years. If employers are unwilling that leaves only one Big Brother that can spread the investment risk and the actuarial risk among all its stakeholders. If you need any further convincing, look at the actual savings of individuals at retirement (median single NET WORTH Age 55-64 in 2010 – $73,800). The graph on 9/28 in this .pdf link delivers the depressing news. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43057.pdf

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