Linda Loftin

An Idea for Social Security

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I’ve read several ideas for keeping the Social Security retirement system solvent and haven’t much liked what I’ve been reading. I don’t like the idea of means testing because that turns the system into welfare. Right now, everyone gets the check and therefore no one looks down on anyone else. When you turn it into a welfare system, you soon will have those who don’t get checks heaping as much criticism on those who do as we see today in the welfare system. There would be complaints about what the recipients purchase with their checks and questions about whether or not they really need the money or if they are scamming the system. Instead of the stereotype of “welfare queens” driving Cadillacs, we’ll be heaping scorn on “oldsters with gold-plated walkers.” In addition to this, means testing might indicate that you could pay into the system for 40 years and get nothing out of it because you have squirreled away your savings and therefore have too many assets to qualify. That would certainly not encourage savings.

Despite some on the right-wing fringe wanting to eliminate Social Security entirely (RicK Perry, for example), the vast majority of us like the concept that when we are aged and unable to work, we will get a check every month that represents our 40+ years of labor in the workforce. There is, however, one segment of our society that gets Social Security retirement checks but never was engaged in working outside the home for pay. If a spouse has never worked in a paid position, they are still entitled to Social Security in retirement and I’ve never seen any mention of eliminating this practice. This system worked very well in the post World War II era when the Rosie Riveters and WACS/WAVES retired into the home to raise the abundant Baby Boomer generation after their men returned from harrowing experiences abroad. But in the late 60’s when feminism surfaced and women started exercising their options to work for a paycheck, the Social Security system that rewarded women for staying in the home became less and less necessary. These days, the vast majority of both spouses work, even if they have children.

Do you realize that if a couple has been married for 10 years, then divorces, that the spouse who didn’t work or only chose to work an occasional part-time job, can get a Social Security check based on the former spouse’s earnings at age 62, if she or he has not remarried? Theoretically then, a man can marry at 20, 30, 40, and 50, be married for 10 years to each spouse, and each of those ladies can get 50% of whatever his Social Security check would include, even if he hasn’t retired, as long as the woman has reached age 62. His own check is not affected at all. So, if he gets a check for $2,000 a month, or would be eligible for such a check even if he is still on the job, each of these ladies could be getting $1,000! Of course, that would be a highly unlikely scenario, but it is a possibility and it highlights the absurdity of the system that is a leftover from the days when we were expected to stay home and have our husband’s slippers, pipe, and martini ready when he walked in the door each evening.

I think it’s wonderful when a family can make a choice to have one of them stay home with the children. My own son currently stays home with the babies while his wife gets the paycheck. It certainly makes for a more relaxed family life, but it also can realistically only be taken advantage of by the more affluent families. The majority of families have to have two paychecks in order to meet their monthly obligations. In that regard then the current system actually favors those who are better off. It could be viewed as a reverse means-test.

I would be strongly in favor of a system in which each person gets Social Security based on their own record and not their spouse’s record. The current system is a relic from the days of sexism and should be abolished. I also believe that if a family chooses to have one spouse stay at home for a number of years, that the spouse staying home should have the option of paying into the Social Security system just like those are employed do. The spouse staying home would make a contribution to the system that would be equal to 6% (the same percentage that those employed contribute) of the dollar amount of the worth of their duties (day care, housekeeper, etc). The employed spouse, who would in this case be considered to be the employer of the stay-at-home spouse, would also contribute 6% (the amount employers currently contribute). It would be a much more fair system, would be geared to the way we live today, and would contribute to the solvency of the system instead of helping to drain the system as is currently configured. This system would need to be eased into gradually, as it would not be fair to suddenly pull the rug out from under those who have counted on the current method.

This is not a solution that would solve all the problems of solvency, but this, along with other sensible tweaking of the current system, such as increasing the top limit for deductions above the current $106,000 income limit, would certainly be better than eliminating cost of living raises or means-testing.

Word count: 825

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  1. You raise some interesting points and I would like to know how the number crunchers feel about these ideas. Would these changes amount to a significant savings for the system? How about raising the retirement age – as they have done in some parts of Europe? We are living longer, so why not postpone retirement? What are your thoughts?

    • I had a nice long response to your query and then it disappeared into cyberspace. It will be shorter this time and I’ll hope for the best in actually getting the reply to you. What I had said was that your question led me to do some research and that research looks like another blog. Very short answer is that raising the retirement age looks to be discriminatory toward lower paid workers. I’m going to try to send this to you now and if it works, I’ll send more explanation. I’m on my iPad and it is acting up!

      • Well, it looks like that previous reply got sent so now I can expand the answer. I’m not home and have only the ipad, which doesn’t respond as well as my computer. i wil be using your question as a starting point for another blog ennty. The two main points are that age expectancy has risen for those in the top half of the income distrubition but not for the lower paid workers. A 60 year old in the top half of income distribution has ave. life exp. of 85 but those in lower have have life exp of 79. Second point is that lower paid workers have more physically demanding jobs and it is difficult tomdig ditches and scrub floors until age 70. i have more to add but will wait until I get home and back to my computer, where I can write more eaasily and with more success.Thanks so much for your interest.
        Linda

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