By Manifesto Joe
I turned 54 late last month. Where I work, nearly half the work force we had 30 months ago has been laid off or pushed into buyouts. Many of those who hit the sidewalks were about my age, and from what I've heard, they've had trouble finding work. If you're over 50, people don't want to hire you.
And now, amid this rapid impoverishment of upper-middle-aged Americans, there's serious, bipartisan talk in Washington of cutting Social Security.
People in their 50s and 60s are being put into an economic vice grip. There was plenty of talk in the past about how much we baby boomers were going to be needed for the work force, since there are so many of us and fewer workers among the younger generations.
I also remember futurists of the 1960s and 1970s talking about how, by now, we were all supposed to be working 25-hour weeks. Hahahahahahahahahahaha!!!...
We have now seen the future, and it looks a lot more like some high-tech version of the 1930s. But since I make the comparison, let's go back in time.
One of the main reasons FDR and Congress created Social Security in 1935 was the destitution seen then among Americans born between 1860 and 1880. The old were perhaps hit hardest by the Great Depression -- a 65-year-old back then was often physically unable to work at most jobs, and unable to be hired for less-demanding
ones. And if you can imagine what it's like to be thrown out of your house and into the street as a younger person, envision what it must be like when you're old.
And yet now, in the middle of what's being called the Great Recession, Washington's "deficit hawks" are talking about raising the age for standard Social Security benefits to 70. House Minority Leader John Boehner is on record as favoring this. It's being discussed seriously by people like former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, who's "serving" on President Obama's debt commission. (See previous post.)
What seems to be in the works is a deliberate impoverishment of people over 50 -- or not? Inside the Beltway, most of the big players are over 50, but they aren't the kind who will be laid off and have to live on a limited term of unemployment while they search fruitlessly for a new job. Maybe they are so out of touch with reality, as it is experienced by most people, that it isn't deliberate. Or maybe they know exactly what they are doing. The truth is somewhere in between. It's easy for someone whose ass isn't on the line to talk about breaking eggs to make an omelet, about things being tough all over, and so forth.
Another thing that apologists would point out is that the raising of the retirement age would be implemented gradually, with people born after 1964 being the main victims. They will someday grow old, too, and they will wonder how this travesty ever happened.
There are a lot of myths being floated as this debate goes on inside the Beltway. Moveon.org recently named five of them:
Top 5 Social Security Myths
Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.
Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever.1 After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers' retirement decades ago. Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.
Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.
Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago. What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.
Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.
Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.
Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs
Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.
Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit
Reality: It's not just wrong—it's impossible! By law, Social Security's funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.
I smell the stench of Grover Norquist here -- the concept that government must be reduced to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub.
This is probably not something the right wing will be able to pull off in the long run. When your belly is empty and there's no roof over your head, you've got nothing to lose. It's not likely that our power elite is going to let things go that far, even when the victims are going to be those over 50.
But history teaches that many horrors can be perpetrated before action is finally taken to correct them. The idea here is to prevent this atrocity before it happens.
The boomers started out as a pretty bad-ass generation. Then they went soft during the Reagan years. Time to get tough again, fifty- and sixty-somethings. The barbarian elite is at the gates.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.