This week, we celebrate Social Security's 78th anniversary. There is a lot to celebrate! For nearly eight decades, Social Security has provided seniors with a secure retirement income and prevented retirees from falling into poverty. Social Security lifts over 21 million Americans out of poverty, including over 14 million seniors. It is doing just what it was designed to do.
I am reminded of the importance of Social Security every day as I hear stories from members about the role Social Security plays in their lives.
Leah Witherspoon from Dallas, Texas, for example, worked hard for decades, but she lost her job just a few years shy of retirement and lost her health insurance as a result. Leah struggled to get by until she became eligible for Social Security and Medicare. Now, Leah receives $1,684 a month from Social Security, which just enables her to pay for her healthcare costs and basic living expenses. Leah's situation is not uncommon -- almost half of unmarried older recipients depend upon Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.
Carl Mariz from Irvine, Calif., worked as an engineer and spent years investing in his 401(k). In recent years, however, Carl's 401(k) took a significant hit due to the volatility of the stock market. Fortunately, Social Security is still there for Carl and many other seniors who lost a significant portion of their retirement investments in the economic downturn.
With fewer employers providing defined benefit pensions, stagnant middle class wages making it difficult for families to put aside retirement savings, and the stock market proving to be an uncertain gamble, it is clear that Social Security is more important than ever as the one secure, guaranteed source of retirement income.
That's why we need to celebrate this anniversary by fighting to protect Social Security. Too many politicians in Washington are still making the misguided claim that we need to cut Social Security in order to reduce the federal deficit. The truth is that Social Security has not contributed one penny to the federal deficit. Retirees have been paying into Social Security for all of our lives. We are not asking for any handouts, only for the benefits that we have fairly earned.
Protecting Social Security from misguided cuts is important, but it's only the first step. In an era when other sources of retirement income are increasingly unreliable, we need to strengthen Social Security in both the short and long term. Senator Tom Harkin's Strengthening Social Security Act (S. 567) accomplishes this by gradually lifting the payroll cap. Click here to support it. The legislation would extend the life of the Trust Fund and increase Social Security benefits by about $65 a month.
By taking these simple steps, we can ensure a secure retirement for current retirees as well as our children and grandchildren. We're working to protect and strengthen Social Security because we don't want to be the last generation to retire.