Commentary

Social Security is 80 years old today, thank goodness

AARP-80thBday-Print_v1 (4)The following essay was written by Doug Dickerson, Director of AARP of North Carolina

Celebrate a Bedrock for Financial Security – 80 Years of Social Security

Americans are celebrating the 80th anniversary of Social Security today, a program that has become the bedrock for financial security for all Americans as we get older. AARP pays tribute Social Security’s long-term success because it has kept millions of older people and their families out of poverty and helped people age with independence and dignity.

Today 59 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, including 1,907,394 North Carolinians. AARP’s Humans of Social Security is a great way to hear from people who talk about what the program means to them.

In North Carolina, Social Security is an important way of keeping older adults out of poverty and is a critical way to stimulate local economies accounting for $22 billion in local spending.

In 2014, 44 percent of the state’s 65+ population would have had incomes below the poverty line if they did not receive Social Security. 30 percent of Social Security recipients in the state rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income, and 59.5 percent of recipients rely on Social Security for 50 percent or more of their income.

North Carolinians have earned their Social Security benefits by paying into the program throughout their working lives. Yet with 11,000 people in the country turning 65 each day for the next 15 years, and with people living longer, this program faces challenges in the future. A 2015 report from the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees concluded, “Lawmakers should address the financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare as soon as possible. Taking action sooner rather than later will leave more options and more time available to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.”

According to AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, “One of the most important questions is, ‘how should these programs be addressed?’ The answer affects how much people will pay into these programs while they are working and how much they will receive when they begin to draw benefits,” Jenkins said.

AARP believes as we ponder the answer to this important question, we must recognize two fundamental tenets.

1. We must protect the benefits that today’s beneficiaries (and those nearing eligibility) receive. Current beneficiaries must know that the benefits they rely on every day will not be reduced or taken away, and those nearing eligibility must know that the promise of benefits based on what they have paid into these programs will be kept.
2. We must also recognize that aging today is different from what it was a generation ago. And, it will be different a generation from now. So, as we consider the future of Social Security and Medicare, we must do so in the context of how society is changing — not just how to make them solvent and adequate for the near term but how to make them work better for the long term. While this demands a vigorous national discussion, we do have some basic principles that should guide that conversation.

Social Security should continue to ensure that people who work hard and pay into the system receive the benefits they’ve earned when they retire. It should also provide security to surviving spouses and young children. Any workers who get hurt or sick and can no longer work should have the security of knowing they’ll get the benefits they’ve been promised. Any changes should be discussed as part of a broader conversation about how to help Americans prepare for a secure retirement.

As we celebrate the history of Social Security, let’s recognize that we must do more than protect and defend this program. We must also improve them so they are more in sync with how people live today and provide a solid foundation that enables people to age on their own terms.

That’s why we’re marking this special anniversary with a birthday card that asks the 2016 Presidential candidates to share their plans for making sure Social Security can celebrate another 80 years. Sign a birthday card to Social Security and help us honor and strengthen a great American success.

HELPFUL SOCIAL SECURITY RESOURCES

• AARP: Social Security Calculator
• Government: Social Security Administration, ssa.gov, 800-772-1213, or any Social Security office
• New books: Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller and Paul Solman; Personal Finance for Seniors for Dummies, by Eric Tyson and Bob Carlson; Social Security for Dummies (Second Edition), by Jonathan Peterson

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