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September 14, 2010

Social Security Proposal: Make Them Work -- Longer

-- by Dave Johnson

Update - please see RJ Eskow's post, As The Aging Stoop To Their Labors, Prosperous Pundits Lecture Them About Sacrifice

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

DC is talking about cutting Social Security for working people at the very same time it is talking about extending tax breaks for the wealthiest people in history. This is a result of our county's shift away from democracy and toward plutocracy. This post is about the astonishing change in attitude toward regular people that is the result of this shift.

There is a DC "Deficit Commission" that is supposed to be cutting budget deficits (that result from tax cuts for the wealthy and increases in military spending) but is instead talking about cutting Social Security. Get this: Social Security is a fully-funded program that uses no tax money. By law it cannot borrow so it cannot contribute to the deficit! At the same time, the huge military budget (we spend more than all other countries combined) is completely unfunded and faces a huge shortfall every year -- but cutting that is off the table.

The real problem: Social Security built up a huge trust fund that was spent on tax cuts for the rich, and that money is coming due. DC thinking is to cut Social Security instead of paying back what was borrowed. One proposal under consideration is to raise the retirement age, recently increased to 67, to 70! This at the very time that every social indicator is saying that we should be increasing Social Security and lowering the retirement age. Increasing because people's savings have been slammed by the financial collapse so they need Social Security as their fall-back position, and lowering because so many people over 50 can't find work.

What About The People Affected?

Almost no one has been talking about how this will effect the people whose benefits will be cut. This is because there has been a change in attitudes in America. We are becoming a not kinder, not gentler nation. The crippled compassion component of conservative ideas about citizenship continues to cut into what's left of our consciences.

Kudos to the NY Times for sending a reporter out from a comfortable desk in their air-conditioned offices to look at what cutting Social Security means to actual people who actually work. Retiring Later Is Hard Road for Laborers,

A new analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that one in three workers over age 58 does a physically demanding job ... — including hammering nails, bending under sinks, lifting baggage — that can be radically different at age 69 than at age 62. Still others work under difficult conditions, like exposure to heat or cold, exposure to contaminants or weather, cramped workplaces or standing for long stretches.

A Washington Post story the next day looks at the flood of desperate people trying to get on Social Security disability because their unemployment benefits are exhausted and they can't find work. Jobless are straining Social Security's disability benefits program,

Social Security officials say they are confident that their vetting process screens out most people who might try to get benefits without being qualified. But, they acknowledge, when jobs are scarce, more workers who might otherwise struggle through with their ailments try to secure disability benefits.

McClatchy looked at desperate older people who can't get jobs and are "taking early retirement" even though it means dramatically reduced monthly checks. Social Security surplus hit by joblessness, early retirement,

Led by aging baby boomers and older workers frustrated by the tough job market, record numbers of eligible Americans started receiving Social Security retirement benefits in 2009. . . . Annual jobless rates for men and women age 55 and older were higher in 2009 than at any time since the government started collecting the data in 1948, Johnson said. That forced many to claim retirement benefits at 62, their first year of eligibility, instead of waiting to collect at the full retirement age of 66.

The findings: People really need the help that Social Security offers.

Cut Social Security? Really? We spent trillions bailing out the wealthy Wall Street elite, we gave huge tax cuts to the wealthiest people in history, we spend hundreds of billions on unaccountable "defense" contractors with shadowy addresses concentrated around DC, and we are seriously considering cutting Social Security?

The New American Attitude

But this is the new America. We're helping the rich and taking our frustrations out on the unfortunate and weak: "the help." I wrote about this attitude change in Simpson Social Security Comments Highlight Battle Of Democracy Vs. Plutocracy

These battles over cutting Social Security and extending tax cuts for the wealthy expose the competing worldviews of We, the People democracy vs corporatist plutocracy. Is our country a community of the people, by the people and for the people? Or are we "the help," only here for the benefit of the wealthy few. In the democracy worldview we are a community that takes care of and watches out for each other. We are each citizens with equal rights and equal value, to be respected equally. Our government and economy are supposed to be for us. In the democracy worldview we should be increasing Social Security's benefits because people really need it.

An effect of moving to plutocracy is that the rest of us need to "know our place." I mean, just who do we think we are? We have been acting like we own this place, like We, the People are in charge here! We think we are entitled to ... entitlements. Things have changed and we need to get with the new program. Our job now is to shut up and be thankful for anything we receive the the behest of the country's new owners.

This is the new attitude: Make Them Work - Citizens As "The Help"

That's right, you have to make them work, or they'll just sit around and wont be "productive." They wont face up to the "consequences" of unemployment. These parasites will just suck the blood out of the producers. You hear language like this all the time from conservatives. The unemployed are "lazy," or "on drugs" etc. They are not "productive." They are mooching off the rest of us.

This is all in sharp contrast to the noble rich, who are an entirely different species biologically and spiritually. They are the "wealth producers" who we must treat with kid gloves and certainly not ask them to pay for their use of infrastructure or government services lest they decide to stop working. They just want to keep working, and what they do is so important, so pure, so necessary to the sustenance of the rest of us that they must be coddled at all times lest we lose their golden-egg magic touch!

This is the new attitude: If You Feed Them They Breed -- And Other Dehumanizing Conservative Idiocy We Should Ignore

The latest nonsense they are spreading is that helping the unemployed keeps them from finding jobs. Good Lord! This is basically the old "if you feed them they just breed" storyline. They say "it makes them dependent" as if hard-working people laid off because of Wall Street's scams are squirrels. Or, to hear the nasty way conservatives talk about these human beings, they are like rats. "Hobos," one Congressman called the unemployed! And the DC elite listen, chuckle and repeat.

This battle over Social Security, at the very same time as DC fights over extending tax cuts to the wealthiest people in history, points out how it will be as our democracy slides away. If we sit back and accept these changes, we lose. To fight this we need to come back to an understanding of what it means to be a citizen in a country where We, the People are supposed to be in charge. A government of We, the People should be about taking care of each other, protecting and empowering each other and respecting each other. WE are supposed to be the boss of you here. And we are supposed to be in charge.

Please add your name to the "Hands Off Social Security" petition. The Deficit Commission should get on to figuring out how to reduce the deficit (clue: it was caused by tax cuts for the rich and military spending increases) and keep their hands off Social Security!


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Posted by Dave Johnson at September 14, 2010 1:15 PM


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