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Peter Riva

View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with me and you, our readers.

Solutions to Social Security?

by Peter Riva - Nov. 21, 2012

The word liberal means being open minded. That does not mean being a pushover or uninformed, it simply means liberals should keep an open mind, gather facts, listen to opinion not their own, and come to an opinion based on intelligence - not belief, superstition, preconceptions, or bias.

And part of the problem when tackling a subject like Social Security is that people either see it as trying to erode that which is already theirs (they did pay into it after all), or the other side sees it as forcing continuance of a system we cannot afford. Let’s deal with a few facts:

1) Social Security was put into effect in 1935.
In 1935 the age of 65 was only reached by 57% of the population of 180,000,000. And that 57% were only expected to live for another 13 years. That means about half the population never made it to Social Security retirement and the rest only lasted until 78. And half of those who did, did not qualify for Social Security.  (Only the primary earner per household did qualify.)
Pretty much, whilst  every Administration and Congress have never taken or spent Social Security payments, every Administration and Congress have taken the interest on those payments, often taking “loans” at 0% interest. That is why the program is going bust, not because not enough money is coming in, but because too much was borrowed at no or little interest to pay for defense and other major ticket programs. That’s why a dollar paid in 1935  into Social Security is pretty much the same $1 on their books today. A dollar in 1935 would buy 10 quarts of milk and in 2012? Under a pint.

2) In 2012, 78% of the population of 310,000,000 is expected to reach 65 and this 78% are expected to live for another 18 years to the age of 83 on average.

3) The amount paid  to 53,236 people by Social Security in 1940 was just $35 million.

4) The amount paid in 2008 to 50,898,244 people was $615,000 million. Almost a 1,000 times more people, paid almost 18,000 times more money. That’s inflation at work.

The math simply doesn’t add up to any form of sustainability. So how can we solve this problem? Well, let’s start with forgetting the past. He did, she said, they passed, they borrowed... all of that doesn’t matter in dealing with reality. Reality bites the public hard if all politicians want to do is curry favor and votes. Perhaps there is another way of looking at this.

Currently, that magic number of 65, the retirement age, is used as a signpost for obsolescence, which is supposed to mean the easy life, the life where you no longer have to work. And yet most people I know never really want to do nothing when they get to 65. Many of them are forced to leave their jobs, as 65 has been considered a signpost of incompetence or diminished capability. But along with the increased longevity in 2012 comes increased vitality well into “old” age. So, why not look at this whole argument another way? Let’s get rid of the “retirement” definition and instead look at the age when your investment into the system matures. Like a life policy. You can cash in or you can let it ride. Why not throw out this 65 age work/retirement barrier to a normal, healthy and productive life and replace it with a system that favors the needs and working desires of people? Why not also make a sliding scale for the next age groups to reach “retirement?”

If we accept that in 1935, 13 years as a national average beyond that retirement age of 65 was considered fair and reasonable, let’s use that same criteria in the coming years and simply subtract, for example, 15 years off the majority of American’s longevity age. This has to be worked into the system, because a promise was made; and it is unfair to ask people near 65 or older to rearrange their whole lives because government officers were pilfering for decades. We need to ease this into place.

Let’s tell 60 year olds that they can work as long as they want to. Remove all mandatory retirement and age discrimination by law. They could be eligible for Social Security at 67.

Let’s tell 55 year olds their eligibility age is 68. And 50 year olds 70. And 40 year olds 72. That would leave all these people with more than 13 years of Social Security but what is much more important, it would give them equal status under the law as employees without age discrimination, without stigma of being “over the hill.” At 50 you could have a 20 year target of maturity and wisdom to bring to bear for the company you work for (even if it is your own concern). Those 5 extra years, knowing Social Security would be safely waiting, might be your most productive.

Of course, all this requires the government to stop freeloading and borrowing Social Security payments’ interest.

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