New Coalition Formed to Strengthen Social Security

As Social Security turns 75 years old Aug. 14, the nation’s most successful social program likely will be under attack by the federal budget deficit commission, which, by all accounts, is considering benefits cuts and raising the retirement age.

Today, more than 60 groups, including the AFL-CIO, announced the creation of the coalition Strengthen Social Security…Don’t Cut It. The group is launching a major mobilization to push back the commission’s phony assertions, backed by the Wall Street spin machine, that claim Social Security is a major component of the budget deficit and is teetering on the brink of disaster.

In a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the group outlined plans to build support in Congress to fight benefits cuts and press candidates this election to pledge to fight any move to raise the retirement age or privatization scheme. Says Ed Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans:The Strengthen Social Security campaign unites everyone here to improve—not weaken—Social Security. We are united against any cuts in benefits, such as increases in the retirement age, and to any form of privatization of Social Security.We will stand united if the commission calls for any cuts to Social Security. We are launching a major lobbying campaign for Congress to block their recommenations.

Speaking at the press conference, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that raising the retirement age is:a benefit cut, plain and simple. It is a cut that is unnecessary and one that Americans can ill-afford.He also says it unfairly singles out workers in demanding physical occupations,workers like my father who spent his life in the mines and couldn’t work another day by the time he qualified for Social Security—and those older workers who may no longer be able to find work due to age discrimination.

Social Security benefits are the largest source of retirement income for most retirees. For six of 10 seniors, Social Security represents more than half of their income. In addition, nearly one-half of older unmarried women and widows, and one-third of all beneficiaries, have little other than Social Security and rely on its monthly benefit for 90 percent or more of their retirement income. Says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Social Security is the mainstay for millions of older women. Every year, a major share of the nearly 24 million women age 62 and older who receive benefits are kept out of poverty because of Social Security. Often that monthly Social Security check is their only income.

A new Gallup Poll out today shows that by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose raising the retirement age and, by an even bigger margin, say the best way to strengthen Social Security is to ensure the wealthiest pay their fair share.Currently, all workers pay the Social Security payroll tax on the first $106,000 of their earnings. Earnings above $106,000 are exempt from the Social Security payroll tax. That means a grocery clerk or warehouse worker pays a bigger chunk of income to Social Security than a hedge fund manager. By a 67 percent to 30 percent margin, the public supports raising the Social Security payroll tax to cover all earnings.

Also taking part in the press conference, AFSCME President Gerald McEntee says the deficit commission is trying to turn Social Security into a scapegoat for the deficit. Social Security is not the  problem.

Social Security—with a $2.6 trillion surplus projected to grow to $4.3 trillion by 2023—is not the cause of the nation’s deficit. Says O’Neill:The fiscal commission should address the real causes of the deficit—unfunded wars, irresponsible tax breaks for the wealthiest, and an economic crisis caused by financial regulatory failures.

This fall, says Coyle, coalition members will be “demanding clear, unequivocal answers from the candidates on where they stand on Social Security.”As McEntee warns congressional candidates:

If you break a promise from 75 years ago, we will hold you accountable. Keep your hands off our Social Security