Social Security is popular.
It is one of the most, if not the most, popular federal government-run programs. It is social insurance, not welfare. It provides Americans with a reliable source of income when: a senior retires from work, a child loses a working parent or if a worker becomes disabled.
Besides the old age benefits, most people don’t realize the value of life insurance provided to survivors through Social Security is more than $476,000 and the value of disability protection for a young disabled worker with a spouse and two children is more than $465,000.
Social Security is an American promise. We pay into the program during our working lives and we’re entitled to collect benefits. We paid for it. It’s our money.
Now, here’s the rub: the right wing hates it. It’s an example of how government works for the average Americans (and works extremely well). In order to turn voters against Social Security, they plant seeds of doubt in younger workers’ minds. They claim it won’t “be there” for them and that seniors collecting benefits—which they paid for, mind you—are somehow sucking resources from younger generations who are still struggling with high unemployment and crushing student debt loads.
Funny, aren’t these economic hardships younger workers experience why we should be strengthening, not cutting, Social Security for future generations?
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, one of the few mainstream media champions of Social Security, wrote an encouraging article July 4 how these efforts to pit "young versus old" aren’t working and that more people are pushing back against this narrative:
"I tell them that if [Social Security] is not there for you, it's because someone has chosen to take it away from you," says Kathryn Anne Edwards, 27, coauthor of "A Young Person's Guide to Social Security," a 60-page book published last year by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute and available for free.
"When I explain that to people my age, it really does resonate with them," she says. "They're under the assumption that it's some kind of mayfly, that it's only a matter of time before it gets put to bed. But if you explain that, no, it's meant to last forever, it resonates with them that it's a political issue and a political decision."
This “divide and conquer” strategy on Social Security got its roots in the 1983 libertarian Cato Journal, “Achieving a 'Leninist' Strategy.” In order to reduce Social Security’s popularity, right wing think tanks had to discourage workers from thinking they would ever receive it. As a result, they are less likely to fight back against proposals to cut Social Security such as raising the retirement age or switching to a lower Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) known as the Chained CPI.
Even though Social Security does not contribute to the deficit, opportunists like former Sen. Alan Simpson—who recently called the California chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans “greedy geezers”—are using the austerity craze as an excuse to make cuts in vital programs like Social Security. Now, more than ever, voters and especially younger generations have to push back against proposals to cut benefits.
Fortunately, there are advocates like Edwards teaching younger workers the value of Social Security and why they are vested in this fight against cuts:
For me, the idea that this is generational warfare is preposterous. Generational warfare is what happens at Thanksgiving across the dinner table. This is about individual security. I tell people this is the best deal you'll get in your lifetime, the best insurance you probably didn't know you had.