02 July 2008

Social Security & Wall Street

For all but three-months of my life, older Americans have been able to count on their Social Security check to arrive on time, in its full amount, and always to clear the bank. That is a unique track record of 68-years of success in providing a safety-net keeping millions and millions of older Americans, widows, the disabled and orphans from falling into the dark, bottomless abyss of poverty.

Working families, low-wage unskilled workers, minorities, and much of the lower middle-class (blue-collar) perennially buffeted and sashayed by economic winds and social forces, and living one missed paycheck away from financial ruin, look toward Social Security as the one thing that will protect them from hunger and poverty in their old-age. They do not have 401Ks, pension programs, savings accounts, or income property to assure them a safe, secure and dignified old-age. Their earnings go to basic survival needs: food, shelter, clothing and health. They do, however, have Social Security; a check that always comes on time, always in the full amount, and which never bounces.

The first monthly payment was issued January 31, 1940 to Ida May Fuller (who looked remarkably like Jane Darwell, who played Ma Joad in Grapes of Wrath) of Brattleboro, Vermont. Ida May did, however, look quite a bit more cheerful than did Darwell in her Academy Award winning role.

Today nearly 49-million Americans receive benefits from the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program (OASDI) known as Social Security. Some 30-million are retirees, nearly 5-million are widows and widowers, close to 7-million are disabled workers, almost 3-million are spouses, and 4-million plus are children.

In Texas there are better than 3-million recipients; with close to 2-million retirees, 400-thousand disabled workers, 300-thousand widows and widowers, 200-thousand spouses, nearly 300-thousand children. Social Security beneficiaries represent 13% of the state’s population and 90% of the state’s over 65 population. Chances are that you or a family member, neighbor or friend is part of that population. Month-after-month they rely on their Social Security in order to stay ahead of the gnashing jaws of poverty.

It is well known, and accepted, that Social Security will have to be adjusted in some way to meet the needs of the coming “bubble” from the post-war baby-boom generation. There are many options, requiring only honest bipartisan negotiation, available to meet this need. Republicans claim that privatizing Social Security and handing it over to Wall Street in the form of managed “personal savings accounts”, which were a part of Bush’s failed domestic agenda, is the best solution.

Following the party-line, GOP presidential candidate, senator John McCain told the Wall Street Journal back in March (3/3/08) that, “I’m totally in favor of personal savings accounts...As part of Social Security Reform, I believe that private savings accounts are part of it—along the lines that President Bush proposed.”


Well consider this. Today “Bloomberg”, “Money” and “Marketwatch” all lead with a similar headline: U.S. Stocks Plunge: Worst Since Depression. As dire and bleak as that might be, it gets worse. The CEO for one of the nation’s leading builders, Lennar Corp, said that sector’s bottom has yet to be hit. Goldman Sachs is warning investors to bail out from General Motors stock and the chief market strategist at Jefferies & Co warns that General Motors will go out of business.

Now, putting aside all the other arguments against handing Social Security over to Wall Street (the vast amount of foreign (Chinese) debt it would require—for one) does attaching the most reliable and successful benefits program in our history to the chaos of today's economy make sense? Would you want your "personal savings plan" linked to General Motors stock?

Of course not! We have many other options. Apparently John McCain, who wants to fulfill Dubya’s third term, doesn’t know that. Fortunately, there are millions and millions of good, decent older Americans, disabled workers, widow and widowers, and orphans who will set him straight!

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