On Social Security’s 82nd Birthday, America Faces A Choice
Nancy Altman, President, Social Security Works
Linda Benesch, Communications Director, Social Security Works
Eighty-two years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law. The program has most emphatically stood the test of time. Today, our nation’s Social Security system provides nearly every American with old age, life, and disability insurance. These critical protections allow middle and working class people to retire with freedom and dignity, and provide vital support for people facing disability or the death of a breadwinner.
Social Security has never been more essential than it is today. Traditional defined benefit pensions are increasingly rare, especially for younger Americans. That means that for future generations of retirees, Social Security will be the only guaranteed retirement income that they can never outlive. Already, one-third of elderly beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all or nearly all of their income. That number will be higher for their children and grandchildren.
The problem with relying solely on Social Security? Benefits are too low to allow America’s families to retire and face disability or the death of a breadwinner without drastic cuts in their standards of living. Social Security benefits are modest by virtually any measure. Average benefits are only $16,000 a year.
Though the Social Security benefits are too low, they are still a major improvement over the time before Social Security. Prior to its enactment, people, as they aged, had no resources at all and were forced to move in with adult children or condemned to live in squalid poorhouses. Surviving parents often had no choice but to give up their children when spouses died prematurely; working families were left destitute when workers became disabled or died. Americans deserved better, and the country responded. It is time to respond further. Though Social Security has provided us with greater economic security, it can do more.