Millions of Americans who are paying into or receiving Social Security benefits tuned into two weeks of national political convention coverage this summer only to hear Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton offer a passing reference and Republican standard-bearer Donald Trump not mention anything at all about the program in accepting their parties’ presidential nominations.
But now is a crucial time to hear our candidates speak out on their plans to make sure that Social Security remains strong; by 2034, this bedrock of American programs will be forced to cut hard-earned benefits by nearly 25 percent if our leaders fail to act.
The 10.4 million New Yorkers paying into Social Security and the 3.5 million receiving the benefits they worked a lifetime to earn deserve to know what long-term impact the candidates’ plans will have on them and their families.
Social Security’s impact on New Yorkers’ lives – and our economy – should not be underestimated. More than one of every six are receiving benefits and spending the proceeds, generating annual economic activity of around $87.2 billion. And that translates not only into millions of New Yorkers having the money they need to survive but also into supporting over half a million New York jobs.
Why the need to update Social Security?
On average, 65-year olds are living seven years longer than they did when Social Security was created in the 1930s. Fewer people are having children, so fewer people are paying into the system, while the aging of the Baby Boom generation is swelling the ranks of recipients. And larger shares of earnings are going to those who are at the top of the pay scale and are exempt from Social Security’s payroll tax.
There are also fewer companies that are offering their employees 401(K)s or pensions and it’s clear that future generations will depend on Social Security.
It’s critical to secure the futures of today’s Millennials and Gen-Xers so that by 2034 they are not afraid of retirement, but rather confident that it will be an option for them. Our volunteers at AARP New York are part of the association’s nationwide “Take a Stand” campaign, which is aimed at elevating Social Security in the presidential campaign and pressing the candidates to detail their positions as fully as possible with the goal of protecting Social Security not only for Baby Boomers but for their children and grandchildren: in other words, Millennials, Gen Xers and future generations.
AARP and its volunteers will continue to keep the pressure on through the election and after – so the new president and Congress take steps to update Social Security – before our options become more limited.
Social Security has become the only source of income for three out of ten New Yorkers age 65 and older, and it saves 820,000 New York retirees from poverty. Living on Social Security check by check has become the reality for millions of New Yorkers. Since Social Security was created in 1935, it has helped over 250 million Americans, and America needs Social Security to remain strong.
Our next president should be able to show us that he or she can take the lead in ensuring it does.
The issue of protecting Social Security is not about politics. It’s about making sure Americans who work hard today know they will be able to retire later in life and collect the benefits they’ve earned. It’s about making sure that reaching your late 60s and 70 doesn’t mean struggling harder to get by but having the option to enjoy a well-earned retirement.
The longer it takes to update Social Security for the future, the harder it will be to take action. The time is now to begin work to strengthen the program. We need to take advantage of the window of opportunity that comes with a presidential election. We need to see meaningful action, before we face an even shorter time horizon that severely limits our choices. The time for action is upon us.
Beth Finkel is state director of AARP in New York state.
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