As Social Security turns 80 this year, we celebrate it as the nation's most successful anti-poverty program in history. In 80 years, it has lifted millions of our families out of poverty and never missed a payment. But millions of the seniors in our communities still live in poverty today.
There are currently 6.4 million older Americans living in poverty, and with 10,000 people turning 65 every day, that number is likely to grow over the next decade. Over the last several decades changes in our economy have made it harder for all of us to be financially prepared for retirement. Pensions are disappearing and wage stagnation has made it more difficult to save. This is particularly true for women who we know make less than men for working the same jobs and for people of color who are less likely to have benefited from growth in the economy. For many who had been able to save some money or develop equity in their home, those assets were lost or significantly depleted in the recent, persistent recession. In addition, due to rising housing, health care, and long term care costs, it is more expensive than ever to grow old.
Those of us in the field of aging know the statistics and the reasons why poverty persists and is growing among older adults. And we see the real life impact that poverty has on seniors like the women in this video . Now a number of the Presidential candidates are talking about this reality and calling for Social Security to be protected and expanded.
Senator Bernie Sanders has long advocated for strengthening and expanding Social Security benefits. He has even acted to help seniors living in deep poverty by introducing improvements to the little-known Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program that serves 8.4 million older adults and people with disabilities who live below the federal poverty level. He recently sponsored, with Senators Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and others, the Supplemental Security Income Restoration Act of 2015 (S 1387 and HR 2442). Martin O'Malley has also come out strong in support of expanding Social Security.
And now, Hillary Clinton is talking about improving Social Security benefits as well. Clinton told the AFL-CIO via a questionnaire back in April (that was recently made public) that she wants to both "improve how Social Security works for women" and to "enhance benefits for our most vulnerable seniors."
And it is not just the candidates from one party. Mike Huckabee has also come out saying that he doesn't believe in cutting Social Security benefits. Even Donald Trump, not known for his empathy or firm grasp of the needs of everyday low and middle income people, has said that he wouldn't cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid.
It is likely that Social Security will continue to be a big issue throughout the long, and at times bewildering, Presidential campaign season. Some candidates will undoubtedly ignore the rising levels of economic insecurity among older adults and call for cuts to the program. And yes, don't be fooled, changing the formula for cost of living adjustments or raising the retirement age are benefit cuts for all of us that hurt low-income seniors and people with disabilities the most. Others will look at the economic reality facing older adults and continue to push proposals that would provide additional help to our poorest seniors that include expanding Social Security and restoring the SSI program.
In Social Security's 80th year, I hope to see more politicians of all stripes embracing its promise to be there for every American when they need it. I'd like to see more sentiments like this one from President Gerald R. Ford, "We must begin by insuring that the Social Security System is beyond challenge. [It is] a vital obligation each generation has to those who have worked hard and contributed to it all their lives." I'll go a step further and say that Social Security should be expanded to meet the growing and changing needs of seniors in today's economy.