Trump Lies About Social Security And Undocumented Workers
Nancy Altman, founding co-director, Social Security Works
In pivoting to the general election, Donald Trump recently proclaimed, “I will never lie to you.” That, of course, is a lie.
Some of Trump’s lies are inconsequential, like his claim to never lie; others, though, are extremely damaging, furthering his political agenda while undermining the security of us all. His recent Social Security lie, embedded in his first general election ad, falls into that latter category.
In that ad, Trump includes a lie that can be found circulating around the internet but contains not one iota of truth. The ad claims that unauthorized workers (people he pejoratively calls “illegal”) receive Social Security. The exact opposite is true.
Millions of undocumented workers, working in jobs where Social Security is automatically deducted from paychecks, contribute billions of dollars to Social Security every year. Yet, by law, they cannot collect a penny of benefits. The Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration has estimated that undocumented workers have contributed over $100 billion to Social Security in the last decade alone.
Trump’s claim that he will lose Pennsylvania only if the election is rigged seeks to undermine confidence in the integrity of our elections. His lie about undocumented workers receiving Social Security seeks to undermine confidence in another crucial institution, our Social Security system.
Social Security is vital to the economic security of all of us. It provides working families with their most important source of retirement income, life insurance, and disability insurance. It provides these benefits efficiently, fairly, and securely. Less than a penny of every dollar spent by Social Security goes to administration. The remaining more than 99 cents goes directly to the American people in the form of benefits. Without Social Security nearly half of today’s seniors would have incomes below the Federal poverty line. Our nation’s largest children’s program, Social Security provides benefits, either directly or indirectly, to around nine percent of America’s children.
Social Security is not only critically important and extremely well run, it is extremely popular, as well. Overwhelming majorities of Americans, irrespective of Party affiliation, age, race, gender, ethnicity, or economic status support Social Security, believe it is more important than ever, do not want to see it cut, and want to see it expanded.
There, of course, have always been those who dislike Social Security and would like to dismantle it. President Dwight Eisenhower called them a “tiny splinter group.” He added, “Their number is negligible, and they are stupid.”
Today, that tiny splinter group never openly expresses dislike for Social Security. Rather, they seek to undermine confidence in it. President George W. Bush, for example, proposed drastically cutting Social Security and dismantling it through privatization. Yet, he described it as “[o]ne of America’s most important institutions,” and “a great moral success of the 20th century.” He quickly followed those remarks with the comment that it was going bankrupt and unsustainable. This, despite the fact that the United States is the wealthiest nation in the world at the wealthiest moment in its history, and can unquestionably afford Social Security’s modest benefits.
Like Bush, Trump clearly understands the politics of Social Security. In a 2011 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said he was on board with plans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — but that Republicans should be very careful “not to fall into the Democratic trap” by doing it without bipartisan support, or they would pay the price politically.
Sure enough, during the primaries, Trump claimed he would oppose cuts to Social Security. As soon as he secured the nomination, though, he sent signals both to Party leaders and wealthy donors that he, indeed, would cut benefits, just as he espoused before becoming a candidate. And the Republican Platform, though oblique in its language, makes clear to those who follow the issue closely, that the Party supports cuts and privatization.
While not likely to make his true position on Social Security known before Election Day, Trump, in his just released ad, seeks to undermine confidence in the integrity of Social Security by spreading the lie that undocumented workers receive Social Security. The obvious implication is that the earned Social Security benefits of hard working Americans are being diverted to those who don’t deserve them.
This subtle undermining of confidence in our Social Security system should not be a surprise. Before becoming a candidate, Trump called Social Security a Ponzi scheme, darkly hinting that it was on the verge of collapse.
In stark contrast, Secretary Hillary Clinton is a champion of Social Security. She fought hard to defeat President Bush’s reckless privatization scheme in 2005. Today, she stands firmly and clearly in favor of expanding, not cutting, Social Security. She sees expanding Social Security as a solution to serious challenges facing the nation, including our looming retirement income crisis, the continuing perilous growth in income and wealth inequality, the financial squeeze on working families, and the need to support those among us who take time out of the paid workforce to undertake the essential and demanding job of care-giving. The Democratic Platform includes a powerful plank advocating expanding, not cutting, Social Security.
Many foreign policy experts have warned that Trump is unfit to be commander in chief or have control of our nuclear codes. He is a threat to our physical security. His lies about Social Security make clear he is a threat to our economic security, as well.
Though Trump is seeking to pivot to the general election in order to become more acceptable to a broader group of voters, his latest ad, sowing fear and misinformation, is revealing. It is not only an attack on immigrants and refugees. It is an attack on the economic security of us all.