In the heat of a Presidential election season and in light of a media that earns ratings by focusing on our divisions, we can forget that we are the United States of America. Although we may disagree among ourselves on many matters, some important concerns unite us. One of those unifying subjects is our Social Security system.
Across all ages, political parties, demographic groups, and income levels, Americans strongly value Social Security. Together, we overwhelmingly support expanding the program's modest benefits and are adamantly opposed to benefit cuts.
There's a very good reason for Social Security's widespread popularity. Social Security is a solution to a serious risk facing virtually all of us. In one way or another, just about every American depends on income from work to meet the basic necessities of life. Consequently, we all need insurance against the loss of those wages. Social Security replaces wages lost as the result of disability, death, or retirement. Moreover, the wage insurance Social Security provides is first-rate, far better than private sector insurance. Social Security is much more efficient, universal, secure, and fair than any counterpart private sector arrangement is or could be.
The civil rights movement, the women's movement, the disability rights movement, and the LGBT movement all successfully fought for important actions by our federal government that have increased our civil and human rights. It is important to continue along that path, developing federal laws, court rulings and administrative policies that achieve greater economic and social justice for groups that have been, and continue to be, discriminated against. We must work for new changes, and we must expand the protections we have already built.
As our newly released fact sheets make clear, our Social Security system provides protections that are especially vital to groups that have faced discrimination. Social Security is designed, through its progressive benefit formula, to somewhat offset, in times of old age, disability, and death, the economic impact of discrimination in the workforce and elsewhere. Expanding Social Security would contribute strongly to our goals of achieving economic security and social justice for those who have faced, and continue to face, discrimination.
But looking at Social Security only through the lens of our diversity misses a crucial point. Social Security unites us through its universality. It works well for all of us.
As we chose the topics for our new fact sheets, we thought about including a fact sheet titled Social Security Works for Privileged White Men. Though we decided against a fact sheet showing how Social Security works for privileged white men, it does. The experience of Neil Friedman provides an extremely important example of Social Security's value even to those who have considerable wealth and privilege.
Mr. Friedman had a very successful career as an insurance wholesaler, which allowed him and his wife to take exotic vacations, own their own home, and build a $4 million nest egg for retirement. They seemed to have it all. But Mr. Friedman made one serious mistake. He invested his fortune with Bernie Madoff who, it turns out, used the money, as well as that of other unsuspecting clients, to fuel his illegal Ponzi scheme. When Madoff's Ponzi scheme was uncovered and collapsed, Mr. Friedman, then age 74, lost his fortune.
Fortunately, during his working years, Mr. Friedman had earned a monthly Social Security check - which now constitutes his entire guaranteed income. (He seeks to supplement his modest Social Security benefit with money from the occasional sale of note cards he produced from photographs of the trips he took when he still could afford them.) Thanks to Social Security, he has money to pay for food, clothes, and other basic necessities.
As Mr. Friedman's story shows, life can have all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. Through them all, Social Security is there, providing a floor of protection, under which you will not fall. If you think you will never need Social Security, you may be wrong. Even the most prosperous among us can face a sudden reversal of fortune due to accident, illness, death of a loved one, and other unforeseen events. At those times in our lives, when we most need support, Social Security is there for us. Just ask Mr. Friedman.
Social Security supports us, and we support it. Our support for Social Security is not just widespread; it also runs very deep. Indeed, pollster Celinda Lake says this support is not just an indication of preference, but of values. Poll after poll reveals the truth of that comment. One survey, for example, found that 81 percent agree with the statement,
"I don't mind paying Social Security taxes because it provides security and stability to millions of retired Americans, disabled individuals, and the children and widowed spouses of deceased workers."
An even higher percentage, 85 percent, agreed with the statement,
"Social Security benefits now are more important than ever to ensure that retirees have a dependable income."
That Americans see Social Security as a matter of values makes sense, because the program embodies basic American values. Our Social Security system gives expression to our best instincts -- working hard and contributing; engaging in self-help and mutual aid; respecting the dignity of everyone; caring for our parents, children, and neighbors; managing resources prudently; and sharing risks as well as responsibilities.
At base, Social Security's universality is its biggest strength. It represents the fundamental understanding that together we stand stronger. We are, after all, united as a nation.
The America we know today would not be possible without Social Security. It undergirds the economic security of virtually every American. Social Security is not simply an insurance program; it represents our nation's character and its aspirations.
So, I invite you to peruse our fact sheets, summarized below, and learn more about how Social Security works for the various highlighted groups. And as you do, please remember that Social Security works for each of us and all of us.
Social Security Works for Women
Women tend to have lower earnings over the course of their working years and longer life expectancies, making Social Security's benefits particularly important for women. As women's participation in the workforce has increased, they have been able to earn vital retirement, disability, and survivors' protections for themselves and their families.
Social Security Works for Children
Although Social Security is most often associated with retirement benefits and seniors, Social Security is also the nation's largest children's program: Nearly 1 in 8 (11.6 percent) of America's children either receive benefits directly or live in households where part of the family income is provided by Social Security.
Social Security Works for Veterans and Active Military Members
Although not generally thought of as a veteran's benefit, Social Security provides the foundation for active service members, veterans, and their families if, and when, they become disabled, die, or reach old age. Around one in five adult Social Security beneficiaries is a veteran.
Social Security Works for the Middle Class
Social Security has helped to build our middle class. As a result of growing health care costs, disappearing traditional pensions, and the failure of 401(k) retirement savings plans, middle-class Americans are facing a retirement income crisis. They are likely to depend even more heavily on Social Security's modest benefits in the future. If we want a growing, rather than a shrinking middle class, we should expand, not cut, Social Security.
Social Security Works for Millennials
Although Millennials who are working and contributing to Social Security may not realize it, they are receiving Social Security benefits today. They are covered by Social Security' vital disability insurance protection. Furthermore, if they have children, those children are protected by Social Security's life insurance, payable in the unthinkable event of the Millennial parent's death. Moreover, just as Social Security is a critical source of income for retirees today, it will be equally, and indeed probably more, important to the retirement security of Millennials, as a result of the nation's looming retirement income crisis.
Social Security Works for LGBT Americans
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all states, along with the same benefits and protections accorded to different-sex marriages. This gave married LGBT couples access to the full range of Social Security's family protections guaranteed to other Americans. Access to the entirety of Social Security's benefits for all Americans is not just a question of equality, but of economic security. LGBT Americans are still widely discriminated against in the workplace and elsewhere. As a group, they disproportionately rely on Social Security.
Social Security Works for Americans with Disabilities
Social Security protects working families against the loss of wages in the event of a serious and life-altering disability. Disability is a risk that all Americans face -- and to a much higher degree than most of us realize. Indeed, an estimated 1 in 4 of today's 20-year-olds will become disabled before reaching their full retirement age. And for virtually all of them, Social Security benefits will be the most important, and often the only, source of replacement income that they will have.
Social Security Works for African Americans
As the result of a history of discrimination in education, employment, and elsewhere, some of it persisting to this day, African Americans, as a group, disproportionally depend on Social Security's modest, but vital, disability, survivors, and retirement benefits. Social Security accounts for virtually all of the income of about half of African American seniors aged 65 or older.
Social Security Works for American Indians and Alaska Natives
In 2013, the median income of American Indians and Alaska Natives was just $34,600, compared to $43,000 for all working aged Americans. Consequently, Social Security's benefits, which are based on a formula which replaces a higher proportion of wages of those with lower earnings, are particularly important to American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Social Security Works for Asian Americans, Hawaiian Natives and Pacific Islanders
Asian Americans, Hawaiian Natives and Pacific Islanders tend to have longer life expectancies, as well as lower average earnings. Consequently, Social Security, whose benefits you can't outlive, is particularly important to them. Nearly half of all Asian American beneficiaries, aged 65 or older, depend on Social Security for virtually all of their income.
Social Security Works for Latino Americans
Because of their longer life expectancies and lower wages, Latino Americans disproportionally depend on Social Security's modest, but vital retirement, disability, and survivors' protections. Social Security accounts for most of the income of around three out of four Latino-American beneficiaries, aged 65 or older.