If you’re multiple decades away from retiring like me and the pals I grew up with, it’s easy to discard the current debate over the future of Social Security as just another political mumbo-jumbo cable talking head punditry punch out.
Social security, Medicare, the deficit, prescription drugs. Who cares? Celebrity Poker Showdown is coming on soon and I have to get up early in the morning to get to work. I mean, why should I care, right?
Well, maybe I should. Maybe we all should, even if it’s just for a minute.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy group, the average Social Security check that a retiree received in 2003 was $895 a month, or a little over $9,000 a year. Now, with the high cost of living in Southern California, it’s easy to think, “We’re paying all this money into a system that only pumps back out nine grand a year to retirees? That’s enough to live in a cardboard box… maybe. Let’s kick this program to the curb and use the money to hit the blackjack tables in Vegas – there’s bound to be more money coming back out of that.”
Not so fast, card shark: an enormous percentage of people, sixty-four percent, rely on Social Security for at least half of their retirement income. An even more astounding number: twenty-nine percent use social security payments for ninety percent or more of their income.
Nine large is a lot of cabbage to a lot of people. You know, like the ones you see on the news, busing over to Mexico to get their prescription drugs on the cheap? They’re the kinds of people that will be affected most by the current debate over Social Security.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the current social security “crisis” (as though everything has to be a crisis nowadays… pretty soon there will be a toothpaste crisis, a Crisis of Crest Proportions). Last month, The New York Times quoted surprisingly effective and shrewd Senator Harry Reid of Nevada as saying, “If we did nothing with Social Security, [it] would pay 100 percent of benefits for the next 50 years."
Indeed, something must be done about Social Security, in good time. But why the hoopla, why the crisis, why must something drastic be done right this minute – like ripping Social Security apart in order to switch to a system of private accounts that would cost trillions in transition costs and effectively guarantee… nothing? Starve the beast.
Beg pardon? I’m trying to take off a few pounds, thank you very much.
But seriously: “starving the beast” is an old theory that the current White House administration is finally sinking its teeth into. It refers to a traditional desire of conservatives to drastically reduce the size of government. However, because most people like and depend upon government programs like Social Security, a little Three Card Monte has to be set-up to get around the “problem.”
Step One: Take money away from the government. President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress rammed through round after round of relentless tax cuts before the recession and after the recession, before 9/11 and after 9/11, and before and during the current wars (the first time in the history of the U.S. this last bit has been done).
Step Two: Cut government programs (see: Social Security)!
There are several problems in conducting business this way, chief among them the fact that spending is currently as out-of-control as its ever been, with the military and pork barrel pet projects receiving swaths of money in such quantities that even traditional conservatives are gasping.
So before anybody jerks around with Social Security, often referred to as the most successful program ever instituted by the United States government, maybe said government needs to check itself, as the song goes, before it wrecks itself… and the lives of millions of folks who deserve a little security, and a little time to be social, during their golden years.
As for my friends and I, we’re still pretty young and can afford another LA-to-Vegas run or two (with ample recitations of lines from the film Swingers on route… “Vegas baby!”) and a few rounds with Lady Luck at the blackjack table.
But some cutbacks are going to be in order if Social Security gets messed around with.
We just can’t afford that kind of gamble.
DB Note:This article originally appeared in the Bellflower Downey Post.