Social Security is not a sexy topic. It doesn’t engender the intense interest of a candidate scandal, nor incite the same mortal concerns as an issue like terrorism, or even capture American’s everyday interest like debates over health care or taxes. In many ways it’s just a program that we take for granted – the government quietly takes a chunk out of our paycheck and in return we get money back in retirement. It’s especially difficult for young adults to care because the benefits seem so distant. We’re so worried about finding a good career that we can’t stop to think about what happens after we finish the job we don’t have yet.
And yet the fate of Social Security may be one of the most important economic for young adults. The latest report from the program’s trustees showed that the retirement program’s trust fund is on track to be completed depleted by 2034, which would trigger a 21 percent across-the-board benefit cut. That’s tens of thousands of dollars in potential lost benefits to young adults, which could compromise our ability to retire with the same standard of living as previous generations.
The reason is simple, Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program, which means that today’s employees are largely paying for yesterday’s retirees. At one time, that worked. But now, the number of workers-per-beneficiary has fallen precipitously from 3.2 in 2008 to 2.8 last year, a number that will continue to fall over the next twenty years. As a result, Social Security has been paying out more in benefit dollars than it collects in taxes since 2010.
This, as former Democrat Senator Bob Kerrey writes for The Daily Beast, threatens to screw over young adults:
Few if any candidates for federal office will tell you that as a consequence of current federal law, young Americans are being screwed in two life-changing ways.
First, under current law, every Social Security beneficiary under the age of 48 will have their promised benefits cut by a third. And second, every young person who works is contributing between $10,000 and $20,000 to the health care and retirement of those lucky Americans who are already drawing benefits under federal law.
Today’s Democrats don’t seem to care that they are, as Kerrey says, “robbing from our future to pay for our past.” In September, sensing the need to pander to older voters, Democrat Senate candidates pushed Social Security expansion in a statement.
“Years of progressive activism led to this moment,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement. “With Hillary Clinton and Senate candidates campaigning on the expansion of Social Security benefits to keep up with the rising costs faced by our seniors, it’s clear that the center of gravity has shifted in the Democratic Party in a more populist direction.”
Similarly, 42 Democrat senators voted for a Social Security increase in 2015 and 120 House Democrats cosponsored a resolution to expand the program this year. The reason? Pure politics. Kerrey continues:
That this is going on is not surprising to me. I know from 12 years in the United States Senate that there are two kinds of people in the U.S Congress. There are those who can count, and there are those who lose. And when it comes to elections, every candidate knows that seniors are much more likely than younger voters to show up.
Seniors are much more likely to vote for candidates who pander to them by telling them the above-mentioned truths. They may love their grandchildren, but pollsters will tell you not to count on that love translating into necessary adjustments in Social Security.
It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that politicians love getting elected more than they care about the economic future of their children. But that doesn’t mean that young voters can’t stick up for themselves.
It’s incumbent on us to care, even though the issue won’t impact us for decades. It’s up to us to realize that doing “nothing” will result in drastic benefits cuts and that Democrats’ plan to expand benefits for current retirees will speed the program’s demise. And most importantly, it’s absolutely necessary for us to get out and vote for the sake of our future.