According to a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans are satisfied with Social Security, expecting to collect every penny currently promised by the system in benefits. This response provides a sharp contrast to the data coming from the Social Security Administration, which projects that the venerable retirement program will reduce payments by roughly 25 percent in less than a decade – unless Congress acts.
Voters in Iowa need to understand one thing about Social Security. Politicians will not take any action on the program as long as half of the public believes that there isn’t a problem to solve.
The program is vital to Iowa. The American Association of Retired People reports that Social Security serves more than 650,000 Iowans, or more than one in five residents, providing payments that inject more than $11 billion into the rest of the state’s economy annually. While policy experts vaguely talk about the impact of forced benefit cuts on “seniors” in a wonkish kind of way, these people are also known as our parents, neighbors, and maybe even co-workers.
Maybe you believe that you will be immune to the cuts going to “seniors.” The fact is that any reduction in benefits will ripple through the banks of Iowa, the business community in your neighborhood, and the state services as seniors adjust to life on smaller checks. The one thing that you can be assured of is: you will not “get nothing” from Social Security. Remember the nine most frightening words in the English language are: I’m your mother-in-law. I need a place to stay.
At this point, someone who is 79 years old expects to outlive the program’s ability to pay scheduled benefits. As worrisome as that might sound, it isn’t a guarantee. That result is what we should expect even in a robust economy.
How is anyone “satisfied” with that prospect?
This possibility isn’t news. Despite all of the data presented annually to Washington, the issue of Social Security reform remains nearly invisible. Democrats are collectively $10 trillion apart on what benefits the program should provide. Essentially, they aren’t talking about a solution. They are trying to figure-out what problem must be solved.
The GOP, on the other hand, hasn’t put forward major reforms for Social Security in nearly a decade. While they promise to protect the program, no one knows what a saved Social Security might do. While they have committed to paying the benefits of those in or approaching retirement, they haven’t provided any detail on how they hope to fill in the gaps between what the program has promised to pay and the revenue it expects to collect.
It should be self-evident that reducing benefit levels 50 years in the future will not materially help the program solve the problem we face today. Yet, no one is asking that obvious question.
For roughly 30 years, voters have known that benefits would be reduced in the mid-2030s. But we have elected Congress after Congress that does little more than twiddle thumbs and point fingers. Our elected officials are content to march half a league forward into any crisis so long as the financial fall-out starts after the current term. Yet, we are “satisfied.”
Voters in Iowa need to understand that politicians are a reflection of us. If we are satisfied, the people we elect will be as well. Politicians aren’t going to provide answers to questions that no one asks.
The solution for Social Security starts with us, those people willing to tell their friends and families that Social Security is a voting priority, and doing nothing is not an option.