Social Security’s 77th birthday comes up on Tues., August 14. The Alliance for Retired American is planning events all over the country to celebrate (see details below!). As well it might – Social Security’s benefit checks keep 20 million people out of poverty every year and are helping to prop up consumer spending while the rest of us dig ourselves out of debt. Some people, however, would prefer you stayed home.
I recently spoke with a prominent, U.S.-based money manager for an unrelated project. First, he lambasted the Federal Reserve for keeping interest rates too low, “monetizing the debt,” and preventing a much needed dose of government austerity. Then he told me why the European Central Bank, which is trying to force austerity onto Europe’s weakest economies in return for a short-term bailout, is doing a better job than the Fed. Howso?
Politicians in Europe know they can’t deliver on all their promises. They’re trying to figure out a way to let the voters down, slowly, that they can’t have all these benefits.
I thought it was reckless lending by European banks that caused the Euro meltdown – after all, Spain and Ireland had tidy budget surpluses before the 2008 debacle. But what my friend the money manager said was curiously similar to something that conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote early last year:
We’re in the middle of a global race to see who can most intelligently reform the welfare state.
In Brookespeak, of course, “most intelligently reform” means reducing social programs to the maximum extent possible – certainly far below the level at which they could provide a dependable base income for the elderly, for example. If that’s the mission of government – of “politicians” – today, then for them, the birthday of Social Security is no cause for celebration. Every year it survives in its current form is another missed opportunity for the “serious” class.
When it comes to the nation’s finances, Kathleen Casey-Kirschling is Public Enemy No. 1. Her offense: Being born,
wrote Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in 2007, as Social Security celebrated its 71st birthday. Casey-Kirschling was the first baby born in the U.S. on January 1, 1946, making her the first baby boomer. The occasion for Milbank’s attack was a press conference the Social Security Administration held on October 15, 2007, when the retired schoolteacher signed up for benefits, hoping to make the point that Social Security was keeping its promises to the first generation who had contributed to the program their entire working lives.
Celebrating that fact isn’t something the political right and center-right in the U.S. are especially anxious for us to be doing. So there’s something distinctly unfashionable in the Alliance for Retired Americans’ announcement last week that it was launching a new campaign, called “Let’s Not Be the Last Generation to Retire,” on Tues., August 14, Social Security’s 77th birthday.
Before Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, many people worked until the day they died, or they lived their final years in terrible health and poverty. These three great American success stories have helped generations of retirees live with dignity and better health,
Edward F. Coyle, the ARA’s executive director, said in a press release. He might have added that millions of working families were burdened beyond their means when they suddenly had to care for aging members of their extended families during the worst years of the Great Depression. A recent New York Times article about the plight of working families in Spain, where many unemployed, middle-aged workers are forced to live on their parents’ slim pensions, reminds us that it could happen again.
The ARA’s campaign includes a petition against the usual menu of cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – reducing cost-of-living adjustments, raising eligibility ages, cutting funding that supports long-term elder care. But the alliance is also asking people to get out in their communities and celebrate – to make clear to our deficit-obsessed political class that these programs belong to their constituents, not to them, and that attempts to build public support for cuts have failed.
Thus far, 35 cities in 24 states have announced events (you can download a complete list here to find one near you). Actions include town hall meetings, retiree luncheons, and – in several places – cupcake deliveries to Social Security Administration offices and staff (who’ve endured their own form of reduction by attrition and the closing of local offices). If you live in California. Massachusetts, Louisiana, or the dozen other states that don’t have events planned, think about contacting the ARA.
Or just organize one yourself. Overwhelmingly, Social Security is America’s largest form of mutual aid, either government-sponsored or otherwise. You’ll have no trouble finding other people who have a stake in it. If they don’t know this, now’s a good time to let them know.