Two Million Voices Ring Out for Social Security Expansion — And That’s Just the Beginning!

Yesterday I stood in front of the White House along with Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Donna Edwards (D-MD), leaders of the Economic Policy Institute, MoveOn, Democracy for America and other allies to deliver a petition signed by over 2 million Americans in support of expanding Social Security.2015-07-14-1436865361-515399-CJzwqryWcAAi7fX-thumb

The petition drive was co-sponsored by more than two dozen organizations representing tens of millions of Americans, and was timed to coincide with the once-a-decade White House Conference on Aging. The National Organization for Women (NOW) is part of this coalition, and I was proud to be among the speakers at the petition delivery.

Expanding Social Security is an essential building block in strengthening the income of everyday people in this country. Indeed, it is the foundation of that effort.

Hillary Clinton gave a speech yesterday in which she called income inequality the defining economic issue of our time. I agree. Her commitment to raising wages and requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes is key to reducing income and wealth inequality. And expanding our Social Security system is right in line with her principles.

Anyone who is paying attention right now knows that our nation is facing a retirement crisis. The number of people with pensions has shrunk dramatically in the past three decades, and many people have still not rebuilt their personal savings since the devastating Great Recession, when house prices and the value 401(k) plans plummeted while unemployment soared.

Across the board, flat middle-class wages are making it extremely difficult for families to regain their economic footing. But in communities of color, economic insecurity has been deepened by racist policing that produces mass incarceration — which cripples the wage-earning capacities of young men and women ensnared in the justice system — while single mothers of color continue to be targeted by lenders for abusive subprime mortgage loans.

All of which spells particularly serious trouble for women’s retirement security. The gender and gender/race wage gaps mean that women work a lifetime at unequal pay. Often overlooked is that, in addition, women often have higher expenses than their male counterparts because they have to come out of pocket for their own and their children’s medical costs, as well as childcare and other aspects of family care giving.

No wonder so few women can rely on just their personal savings in retirement. Social Security is their lifeline, accounting for 90 percent or more of the monthly income of one in three female beneficiaries.

Yet, with an average benefit of just $13,500 per year for women, proposals to expand Social Security are more important than ever. A key expansion proposal is the caregiver credit, which would lessen the penalty women experience in the form of lower retirement benefits for having dropped out of the paid workforce to care for children or other family members. Other essential expansion proposals include a one time across-the-board benefit increase at, raising the minimum benefit, and lifting the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax so everyone pays the same rate.

Although Social Security expansion may not have been on the agenda at the Conference on Aging, I know it must have been on the delegates’ minds–and not just because we stood outside the White House to tell them so.

According to a 2014 survey by Lake Research Partners,

Voters overwhelmingly support increasing Social Security benefits. This is not just an issue of public policy, but rather a core value. Seventy-nine (79) percent of likely 2014 voters support “increasing Social Security benefits and paying for that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else” including 59 percent who strongly support, while just 21 percent oppose.

And in an op-ed last week in Time Magazine, about what the White House Conference on Aging wasn’t planning on addressing, Reuters’ Mark Miller wrote,

The discussion of Social Security looks like it will be especially disappointing. The policy brief embraces generalities about “strengthening Social Security” without mentioning the boldest, smartest idea being advanced by the left flank of the President’s own party: expansion of benefits focused on low- and middle-class households. Finding ways to protect traditional pensions? Preserving Medicare as a defined benefit, and defending it against voucherization? Those are nowhere to be found.

The history of citizen action in this country is one of pushing the boundaries and opening up debate to include urgent new perspectives. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) did just that with Social Security expansion. In an article entitled, “How Elizabeth Warren Made Expanding Social Security Cool,Mother Jones reported,

For years, Washington politicians and policymakers been talking about cutting Social Security benefits. The Beltway consensus, unduly shaped by deficit hawks and Wall Streeters, has been that the system is broken and must be pared back, and progressives who support Social Security have often had to play defense.

But in late March, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the populist Democrat from Massachusetts, entered the fray–and challenged the prevailing view. In the wee hours of March 27, Warren introduced an amendment to the Senate budget resolution calling for protecting the program’s solvency and expanding Social Security benefits. And every Democrat present but two voted for the amendment; every Republican opposed it…

In a HuffPost blog earlier this year, I quoted Senator Bernie Sanders speaking, as always, truth to power:

Sometimes we all tend to take things for granted and we forget that Social Security is the most successful government program in our nation’s history. Let’s be clear. For more than 75 years, Social Security has, in good times and bad, paid out every nickel owed to every eligible American. Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of senior citizens, widows and orphans and the disabled out of extreme poverty. Before Social Security was developed, about half of our seniors lived in poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent live in poverty and all of that is done with minimum administrative costs.

What a contrast to the smug remark by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who said, “over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts — join the club.”

We need a national policy that respects workers’ contribution to the economy and provides the benefits they’ve earned and deserve. What we don’t need are right-wing politicians (particularly those running for president) who see people receiving Social Security, Medicare and disability benefits to buy dissertation as malingerers whose economic security can be put on the chopping block.

As the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway, we have an opportunity to direct the debate towards the issues that matter most. If economic insecurity is part of the problem, expanding Social Security is part of the solution.

Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 07/14/2015.

4 responses to “Two Million Voices Ring Out for Social Security Expansion — And That’s Just the Beginning!

  1. Can a democracy work when the people in it are not working? For the people are not given the opportunity to engage in their own livelihood…but voting says that they are. Would people vote to get sold out? No. what is happening then? For this retirement crisis says that the economy is not benefiting the people who participated in it.

    we have an economic system that allows the market to be freer than the people it caters to. We have a free market whose freedom depends on having a group of people kept in poverty where others may freely exploit them to move up in order to give the illusion that there is a free movement. We have a free market; a free market which means that one person is free to do as he pleases with the livelihood of other people. A free market in conjunction of a justice system that wants to protect this livelihood—and the only way it can now do it is by protecting those who own your livelihood—the rich people.

    Shall I go on further? I think I will

    We have an economic system that attempts to remove people from understanding their own condition—by using a complex terminology that makes the average person confused and lost in translation. Why can I not pay the bills? I don’t know something about recession. What is a recession? I don’t know… I think it has something to do with the economy taking a lunch break and when it returns we better hope that it will bring us the left overs in a doggy bag otherwise we are screwed.

    If I rented a brand new car and I return It destroyed, would the company give me a reward? No. if I rented it and kept it in a good condition, the company might give me a discount next time I rent again. But our social security lacks any social responsibility. And without responsibility, there is no security. And how can I give you a ride to your doctor’s appointment, grandpa…when you gave me a broken down car! And It would be easier for me to take care of you—now that you are old —daddy… but you did not think that women are worthy of being invested into! Where is the social responsibility that is necessary for social security?!!!!!!!! When society deliberately leaves groups of people insecure, social security needs to be reformed a million times in order to find the right chemical formula that will hide that problem. After all, security is just a word…we don’t really mean it!!!

  2. p.s.
    Having a low class, a middle class, and a high class is not a hallmark of a civilization but a character trait of bestiality. Moral bestiality, that is…which happens to be the same as sexual bestiality for those whose morality is focused on their own genitalia. That society is insecurity itself. No where in this world does an actual human civilization exist. So the jig is up on the pretentiousness of men in monkey suits.
    i hope Hillary will not follow their footsteps… they use a hammer to tighten a screw… and if she uses the hammer, they will mock her for breaking the chair. for they are used to their own nonsense…. professionals at making the wrong look right. women are not so gifted in cold-blooded trickery.

  3. Expand the Social Security system! We the people pay for it, and the security means just what it says. Stand by this!

  4. Expanding social security is crucial. Everyone should be entitled to a living wage social security plan.
    Personally I won’t be able to live on the what I will receive which makes me very insecure about the
    future. As a single woman I have all the issues of caregiver, low pay, not married long enough,
    (I didn’t even know about that ten year deal), Social security must expand. This out of control military expansion has taken away the vital resources for the social services we need at home and abroad.
    Women deserve an equal stand on this earth, this patriarchal system of oppression must end for the good of all.

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