Last week marked the 78th anniversary of Social Security, the most successful anti-poverty program in our nation’s history. For seven decades, Social Security has supported the economic security, independence and dignity of millions of American seniors. Before Social Security, about half of our senior citizens lived in poverty; today, they number less than 10 percent.
Social Security works! Far from contributing to the deficit, Social Security will be solvent for some time. This year, 58 million Americans will receive benefits averaging a modest $1,300 a month. In Indiana, more than 1.2 million people — fully 19 percent of our state’s population — depend on Social Security, including many middle- and lower-income people who deserve to receive their full benefits to preserve their independence and dignity.
Since 2000, the American middle class has been shrinking and poverty has increased, reversing a trend created by the social policies of the New Deal. Because of policies that created union rights, regulated industry and set up the social safety net, income gains between 1948 and 1979 were shared broadly across the economic spectrum, not concentrated in the highest income brackets as they are today. Between 1979 and 2011, however, not only has income growth slowed or stagnated, those at the top of the economic pyramid have scored the biggest gains. Today, thanks to CEO salaries that can top 400 percent of their workers’ wages, soaring corporate profits and millions spent on corporate lobbying, the top 1 percent of earners take home 20 percent of America’s income.
Despite these discouraging trends, politicians in Washington talk about balancing the budget by cutting earned Social Security benefits. Some still insist that we have to choose between investing in jobs, infrastructure and successful programs like Social Security and fixing our country’s economic problems. This is a false choice, and we all know it.
One honest proposal for increasing revenue calls for closing tax loopholes for the huge corporations like Bank of America, Apple and Pfizer that conceal profits and ship jobs overseas. Closing those loopholes would raise nearly $600 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, limiting tax deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent to the same level as that of the middle class would raise another $500 billion during the next decade.
Getting our economy going again calls for a greater contributions from the wealthiest individuals and corporations who have so far dodged paying their share. A tax code that holds them accountable for paying their fair share would provide enough revenue to preserve Social Security and Medicare — and that should be the priority for our elected leaders, including U.S. Sen. Donnelly, who has long been a champion for seniors.
It is time to call on Congress to budget responsibly — not at the expense of those least able to afford it: the widows and widowers, orphans and disabled who depend on Social Security. The lesson of Social Security is that public policy can relieve inequality, diminish poverty and make our country a better place to live. It’s time that Congress learned that lesson and prioritized the needs of people over the greed of corporations.
You can learn more about priorities in the upcoming budget debate and preserving Social Security and Medicare at an event organized by Northern Indiana Americans for Democratic Action at the Greencroft Senior Center Auditorium, 1721 Greencroft Blvd., in Goshen, on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 2 p.m. For more information contact Jeremy Bernstein at 903-1082 or firstname.lastname@example.org.