Social Security No More?

Social Security. To me it used to mean more than knowing that I’ll be well off once I retire. It represented a sense of trust that through thick and thin, Uncle Sam would always be there for me. It meant that if I supported it now, it would support me when I needed it most.

Like a little kid enticed by his parents to do household chores with the promise of snagging a cookie from the cookie jar before dinner, I knew that Uncle Sam would reward me for my sacrifices. But in the midst of tough economic times, it seems like I’m still mowing the grass but not getting my sweet tooth satiated.

Social Security is momentously important. Don’t let all the GOP candidates’  rhetoric claiming that it’s a “Ponzi scheme” or that it’s “broken” and needs to be given up on” undermine its importance; they’ll say just about anything for a shot against Obama next year.  Social Security is so important because we as Americans can’t be trusted with our future, especially when that future involves being too feeble to support ourselves financially to undergo  long lists of medications and many hours spent in doctors’ waiting rooms that accompany older age.

It’s not our fault. Instant gratification is just a part of our society. How can you resist that trendy new blazer after that charismatic speech you just gave landed you a promotion?

Just look at the millions of Americans in debt and you’ll know we’re a consumerist culture. So it makes sense then that we need the government to force us into saving for later. In exchange for paying our share of taxes and contributing to the nation’s GDP, it’s the government’s duty to take care of us when we retire. It’s only fair.

But lately, it seems like the government’s been falling short on its end of the bargain by not thinking ahead and planning accordingly for our well-being.

Social Security was started by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 during the heat of the Great Depression. Acknowledging that the elderly who had for so many years contributed to this nation were in desperate need of financial support but also keeping in mind that the government was low on funds, FDR established an ingenious system that required no capital to start off.

The Social Security Act took payroll dues from working Americans and provided them to retirees who could no longer work. However, as we pulled out of the Great Depression and unemployment abated, we no longer had to depend solely on working Americans’ contributions to the system for Social Security to break even. In other words, a surplus resulted from more money being collected by working Americans than was distributed to retirees.

Instead of saving this surplus in a special fund that could only be accessed when Social Security couldn’t break even in any particular fiscal year, it was funneled into the treasury free of any earmarking.

At the time of its inception, Social Security may have adequately provided because of a low life expectancy and retiree-to-supporter ratio, but the system was most definitely not designed to support the huge baby boomer population that would come to retirement age.

Thus, we arrive at the dilemma we are in today. A small working-class of Americans are attempting to support a huge retiring class of baby boomers.

There’s no way for all of these retirees to receive the benefits promised to them based off of the payroll contributions from working Americans alone. The government either had no foreboding expectations that the day would come when Social Security couldn’t buttress itself or it was too nonchalant to adjust the system aptly to avert such a debacle. Whatever the reason, the government has no other option than to borrow the necessary funds to follow through on its promise of support for these baby boomers.

But lawmakers know that they can’t perpetually raise the debt ceiling or else the value of our dollar will eventually reach a point of derision. And so unless future action is taken to once again guide Social Security to at least break even or hopefully have a surplus, then the youth of this generation will pay into Social Security but not be properly reciprocated once they come of retirement age.

To ascertain a solution to ensure future generations are adequately supported, we need to look back at why Social Security was established. It was formed to care for those older Americans who could no longer work. Thus, Social Security should not be based on age but on capacity to work.  Social Security should not supplement an income but rather serve as an income for the elderly. Well, then that leads us to a new problem: who do we consider the elderly?

I would say anyone over the arbitrary age of 55, the age at which most health-related complications that hinder working begin to set in, could be considered an elder and should have the option to collect benefits should he or she choose to retire.

You may ask yourself why anyone would continue working despite having the option to retire. And the answer would be that if one retires, he or she takes a step down in salary as he or she transitions from a possibly affluent working person’s salary to a salary that covers the bare necessities. Thus people will only retire if they truly can’t work any longer.

Hopefully, such a reform can allow only those who truly need Social Security benefits, as defined by an inability to work, the option to claim them. Then maybe our Social Security system will have a better chance of breaking even or having a surplus every year to provide for future retiree generations that are so righteously investing in it right now.

Faisal Chaabani is a third-year biological sciences major. He can be reached at fchaaban@uci.edu.