Congressional Corner: Strengthening Social Security To Help Middle-Class Americans

Congressional Corner: Strengthening Social Security To Help Middle-Class Americans

Strengthening Social Security To Help Middle-Class Americans

By Senator Bernie Sanders (VT)

Millions of middle-class Americans face a looming retirement crisis as a result of growing wealth inequality. Middle class wages have declined and the minimum wage has lost more than 30% of its value since 1968. Today, most Americans have less than $10,000 in savings, and only one out of five workers has a traditional defined benefit pension with guaranteed income in retirement.

For 80 years, Social Security has successfully kept millions of seniors who can no longer work out of poverty, as well as millions of disabled adults and children of deceased or disabled parents. About two-thirds of beneficiaries depend on Social Security for more than half of their income, and around one-third depend on Social Security for almost all of their income.

These benefits are far from generous. Compared to other industrialized nations, we have one of the most paltry social insurance systems in the world. Seniors have an average Social Security benefit of only $1,328 a month.  This is not enough to keep someone in the middle class.

Social Security has a $2.8 trillion surplus, enough to pay full benefits for 18 years, but income inequality has hurt Social Security's finances by leaving most of the wealthiest Americans' earnings above the cutoff point for the payroll tax which funds it. A Wall Street CEO who makes $18 million per year pays no more in payroll tax than someone earning $118,500.  If we had the same level of economic equality we enjoyed in 1983, the retirement trust fund would have another $1.1 trillion in it today.

Instead, that money has gone into the pockets of the wealthy. Now Republicans want to cut benefits for hard - working Americans. They want to harm the most vulnerable among us, including manufacturing a crisis to put disabled Americans at risk of facing a nearly 20% cut in benefits, even while they provide more tax breaks for the wealthy and for corporations.

It's time to address our real problems -- growing inequality and our looming retirement crisis. I have sponsored legislation that would apply the payroll tax to earned income above $250,000 and to investment income. This would extend Social Security's solvency for the next fifty years, and allow us to increase benefits to meet the elderly's higher living expenses.

Under this bill, beneficiaries would get about $65 more a month and the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, or CPI-E, would be used to more accurately measure inflation to ensure Social Security benefits keep up with the rise in costs for food, rent and medicine.

That's sensible, practical – and fair. It asks those who have benefited most from wealth inequality to pay their proper share of payroll taxes.

Poll after poll has shown the American public supports expanding Social Security. It,s time Congress listens to the American people who want to expand Social Security, not the Wall Street millionaires who want to cut it.