A growing chorus of prominent voices in Congress and elsewhere are calling for the expansion of our Social Security systempeople who know that Social Security will not “go broke” and does not add a penny to the national debt. Social Security Works! will amplify these voices and offer a powerful antidote to the three-decade-long, billionaire-funded campaign to make us believe that this vital institution is destined to collapse. It isn’t.
From the Silent Generation to Baby Boomers, from Generation X to Millennials and Generation Z, we all have a stake in understanding the real story about Social Security. Critical to addressing the looming retirement crisis that will affect two- thirds of today’s workers, Social Security is a powerful program that can help stop the collapse of the middle class, lessen the pressure squeezing families from all directions, and help end the upward redistribution of wealth that has resulted in perilous levels of inequality.
All Americans deserve to have dignified retirement years as well as an umbrella to protect them and their families in the event of disability or premature death. Sure to be a game-changer, Social Security Works! cogently presents the issues and sets forth both an agenda and a political strategy that will benefit us all. At stake are our values and the kind of country we want for ourselves and for those that follow.
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About the Author
Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson founded Social Security Works and co-chair the Strengthen Social Security Coaltion. Altman is a lawyer and the author of The Battle for Social Security. She resides in Bethesda, Maryland. Kingson is a professor at Syracuse University’s School of Social Work in Manlius, New York.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: The Changing Conversation
"This is no time, this is the last time to be talking about cutting Social Security. This is the moment when we talk about expanding Social Security."
—Senator Elizabeth Warren, The Rachel Maddow Show, November 20, 2013
Whether you are a member of the Silent Generation or a Baby Boomer, whether a Gen Xer or a Millennial, this book is for you. It makes the case for why and how we can and must expand our Social Security system. And why doing so is excellent policy, excellent politics, and, most importantly, excellent for all Americans—young and old, women and men, people of all races and ethnicities.
For the many readers who have heard for decades that Social Security is going bankrupt and won’t be there in the future, the idea that it's not—and that there’s a movement to expand it—may come as a shock. If you are one of those readers, it is essential to your own and your family's well-being that you free yourself from what you think you know about Social Security.
Armed with misinformation and half-truths, a three-decade long, well-financed campaign has sought to dismantle Social Security, brick by brick. This campaign has been remarkably successful in undermining confidence in Social Security. In fact, the younger you are, the less confident you are likely to be that Social Security will exist when you need it.
The campaign has also been successful in convincing prominent politicians of both political parties that Social Security must be radically changed, or at least scaled back. The mainstream media has aided and abetted the campaign by uncritically accepting and advancing a panoply of misconceptions, while largely ignoring the facts.
While the campaign against Social Security has been successful in those ways, its hundreds of millions of dollars have failed to enact anti-Social Security legislation. Standing in the way, resolute, are the American people.
Politicians and the media decry how polarized our nation’s politics are. Electoral maps, depicting red states and blue states, provide a pictorial representation of that polarization. Hot-button topics like abortion, same-sex marriage, and immigration reform divide the electorate.
But there is one issue about which Americans are overwhelmingly united: they support Social Security. Poll after poll reveals this. The findings of a recent online survey of two thousand adults, ages 21 and over, conducted by Matthew Greenwald and Associates in collaboration with the non-partisan National Academy of Social Insurance, is a good example. A large majority of Americans believe that Social Security is more important than ever, do not mind contributing to Social Security because it provides security and stability, and believe that consideration should be given to expanding benefits.
Numerous polls show that Americans of all political affiliations—Republicans, Independents, Democrats, self-proclaimed Tea Partiers, union households, and progressives—support our Social Security system by large majorities. Conservatives may disagree with progressives about most political issues, but not about the importance of Social Security. Those from the Northeast may differ with those from the Deep South about many issues, but both groups support Social Security.
Virtually all demographic groups support Social Security. Men and women support Social Security. So do African-Americans, Hispanics, European-Americans, and other racial and ethnic groups. Every age group does, as well. Even younger Americans, who have bought the lie that Social Security won’t be there for them, nevertheless support the program for their parents and grandparents, and don’t want to see it cut.
And the support is not just widespread; it also runs very deep. Feelings for Social Security are so strongly held that one well-respected pollster, Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners, says this support is not just an indication of preference, but of values.
This view of the overwhelming majority of the American people should come as no surprise. The America we know today would not be possible without Social Security. This institution undergirds the economic security of virtually every American. And it gives expression to the American people’s best instincts—caring for our parents, children, and neighbors; working hard and contributing; engaging in self-help and mutual aid; respecting the dignity of each person; managing resources conservatively and prudently; and understanding that together we stand stronger. Old-fashioned ideas, perhaps, but still valuable, and fundamental to advancing strong families, communities, and our nation.
The current campaign to undermine Social Security is not a new battle. Although the moneyed interests and conservative ideologues have hated Social Security and battled against it since before it was enacted, the will of the people has always ultimately prevailed. The intensity of the battle and fields of engagement may ebb and flow, but the battle lines are always drawn. The current campaign against Social Security is simply the latest skirmish in that ongoing war. It’s a war we, the people, can and must win.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Facts
Chapter 1: The Changing Conversation
Chapter 2: Social Security Works for All Generations
Part II: The Challenges
Chapter 3: The Precarious Lives of Today’s Old
Chapter 4: The Coming Retirement Income Crisis
Chapter 5: The Debt Owed to Those Who Care
Chapter 6: The New Gilded Age
Part III: The Solutions
Chapter 7: Expand Social Security for All Generations
Chapter 8: Paying the Bill
Part IV: The Threats
Chapter 9: The Billionaires’ War Against Social Security
Chapter 10: The Conventional “Wisdom” is Just Plain Wrong
Part V: Next Steps
Chapter 11: The Threat is Great, The Stakes are High
Chapter 12: Passing Social Security Forward: A Legacy for All Generations
Appendix I: Additional Explanation about How Social Security Works
Appendix II: Additional Information about Social Security Works All Generations Plan and Other Proposals, including Cost and Revenue Estimates
Appendix III: Descriptions of Various Social Security Expansion Legislative Bills and Experts’ Plans
Appendix IV: Leading Organizations Working to Expand Social Security
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have studied Social Security for about a half century, and Medicare since Ronald Reagan's attacks on efforts to pass such a program in 1961. This is the most important book any policy maker, or in fact any voter, could read to prepare for the 2016 elections. Altman and Kingson demonstrate clearly that Social Security is not broken, and even less is it "unsustainable," as opponents often allege. The authors explain why the conventional wisdom is so wrong, and identify the ideologues and special interests who have captured the public discourse for their own purposes. Altman and Kingson are outstanding experts. They confront the propaganda directly, and make it plain that Social Security is strong--and in fact that it should be expanded, not reduced. There is no reason--economic, moral, ethical, social, or practical--why anyone's benefits should be reduced, nor can any objective and truly informed person actually believe that America's powerful economy would have to strain in the slightest to continue the system indefinitely. The question is one of political will, not economics.
I’ve read a number of books about Social Security. This is by far the best. The authors were extraordinarily well prepared to write it, having served in high level official positions since the 1980s regarding Social Security, including on the Greenspan Commission, and co-founding the national Washington-based advocacy group Social Security Works!—same name as the book title. The book is as readable as it is knowledgeable—no small feat since this is a topic that can be very difficult to present clearly and interestingly. The authors explain how Social Security works and why it has been so successful and popular—the federal government’s most popular program. It is social insurance, the secret to its success. It is not welfare, as charged by its enemies, nor retirement savings as erroneously believed by many of its supporters. Because it is pooled insurance against loss of wages after retirement as well as disability and aid for survivors, it can deliver much greater benefits than individuals could provide for themselves through savings, such as with 401(k)s. At the same time, despite its success and popularity, there has been a concerted campaign to either privatize or cut back Social Security since the late 1970s, which the authors do a fantastic job of exposing. It’s a campaign that has included corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. It’s no secret that Wall Street would like to gain control of the substantial amount of retirement money that flows through Social Security. It is also no secret that right wing foundations have been promoting privatization of Social Security and attempting to undermine public confidence in it for decades. The main message of the book is not only that Social Security indeed does work and should be defended against its enemies, it is also that Social Security benefits can and should be expanded to address the country’s growing retirement crisis, which was caused in no small measure by the replacement of traditional pension plans by shaky 401(k) investment schemes that have failed to produce adequate retirement income. Any working person who participates in Social Security, which includes 94% of the workforce, should understand the program and be prepared to defend it in the interests of assuring a decent retirement. This is the book to read to understand and defend one of our most solid earned work benefits.
Social Security works. I knew it and as a former Social Security representative I have been talking to acquaintances and writing to editors about it for years. But this book will be my manual for years to come. We have almost three trillion dollars in the trust funds. We are nearing the breakeven point, calculated carefully in 1983, where we will begin spending down those funds in the second half of a 75 year plan as the baby boomers age and retire. The trust funds were always invested in Treasury notes, the safest investment on the planet, but we did not always spend/waste so much money making war or give such great tax breaks to the rich. So, much of our treasury has been wasted and if we do not restore the progressive tax rate for the rich our middle class will be paying through income tax to restore the treasury for the Social Security benefits they have already paid for in payroll taxes. The law provides for a separate disability trust fund that comes from the same payroll tax as the retirement fund but money has been transferred freely between the funds in the past. The cap on the amount of earnings taxed for Social Security purposes ($117,000 in 2014) was designed to tax 90% of all wages. But our economic recovery from the 2008 downturn has almost entirely profited the wealthy and the cap, which floats with rises in average wages, partially excuses the people who have benefited most from the recovery. The tax applies to more nearly 80% of all earnings now. We need to remove the cap so even the rich will pay Social Security taxes on all their earnings, like the rest of us. The attacks on the middle class, largely funded by Peter G. Peterson and the Koch brothers, are not just on Social Security. There is a nationwide attack on all retirement programs and welfare programs and deliberate promotion of income inequality. As employer sponsored retirement programs disappear Social Security will become even more essential to the survival of the middle class. We have to expand it, not disband it. For the richest nation on the earth it should be a nonproblem. Citizens should carry this book and its message into every possible forum as we educate ourselves on this critical issue.
This book exposes the conflicting values behind the controversy over Social Security and it's future. Read it, think about it, and decide where you stand: which values are really at the core of America's success.