One of the primary accomplishments of American civilization in the 20th century was the construction of a system of economic security that safeguards the dignity of Americans beyond their economically productive years. Social Security erected an old-age insurance infrastructure through which, from the 1930s onward, virtually all workers were given the opportunity - and in fact required - to steadily save significant amounts of money to guarantee the economic security of their families in retirement. As a country, we witnessed dramatic declines in the incidence of downward social mobility and poverty among older Americans. In 1983 these benefits were cut significantly - and those cuts are still being phased in today. Compounding these cuts to Social Security, employer pensions have been disappearing - replaced by 401(k)s, supplemented by IRAs. Yet taken together, such private accounts provide meaningful retirement income to only 3 in 10 workers. And Medicare premiums are rising as well. Overall, much of the progress made in the last century to address the challenge of retirement security has been reversed. Those nearing retirement today, but even more so younger Americans in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, should be very worried about the prospect of downward social mobility in retirement.
As this major crisis looms, most of the insider community in Washington, DC seems fully oblivious to it. Many politicians want to use the debt ceiling deadline to blackmail their fellow Members of Congress and the President to enact additional reductions to Social Security benefits - such as the chained CPI COLA cut - that would further erode the retirement security of today's and tomorrow's seniors. Even though the typical working household nearing retirement today has been able to save only $12,000 outside of Social Security for their retirement.
Today, the real challenge policymakers face is to expand - not erode - Americans' retirement security. The following infographic, which Democracy for America has developed together with Social Security Works and MoveOn.Org, depicts the scope and magnitude of the retirement security crisis, and highlights the need to expand Social Security benefits to address it.