Opinion | Social Security a crisis ready to bubble over

Conwell Hooper | Guest columnist

It appears that age 62 is the most popular age to receive Social Security, according to a June 19 News Sentinel article, but what what happens if our Social Security trust fund runs dry one day? With the recent news from the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust fund, let's just hope we have the luxury to choose in the future. The trustees have often said Social Security will be depleted by 2034 if we don't make changes, but for the first time in 36 years, costs will exceed income, forcing the program to dip into our reserves to cover benefits. This news is frightening for our seniors and future generations.

With 62.4 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits and one out of three senior citizens counting on it for 90 percent of their income, it is time for our public officials to get serious about the future of our older Americans. At a time when politics seem to be extremely partisan, our elected officials need to come together and provide stability to a program that we've been paying into for our retirement needs for decades. Do our seniors, baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials who've sacrificed a portion of their paycheck for their future retirement needs deserve this kind of instability? Absolutely not.

Just recently, the trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust fund indicated the program faces long-term financing problems, which gives us all major concerns about our financial future. The trustees recommend lawmakers take action soon to address these challenges so that we will have time to consider them to minimize the impact on our vulnerable populations.

As you might imagine, dipping into our reserves changes the landscape for both Republicans and Democrats. Fortunately, Congress has plenty of policy options that would reduce the massive shortfall, but the clock is ticking. President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Collecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery.” I believe if he were alive today, he would say that paying into our Social Security government program for decades and it potentially not being there for our retirement might not be robbery, but it could possibly meet the test for larceny.

Congress could consider several proposals to stop the bleeding, from increasing Social Security taxes to changing the cost-of-living adjustment or raising the retirement age. None of these will be easy for public officials to support, but when tough decisions are on the table, leaders rise to the top. Social Security means economic security for millions of Americans, especially senior citizens living on fixed incomes. For many of our vulnerable seniors, Social Security is the sturdy leg of a three-legged stool. Social Security benefits are the foundation of retirement income for our older Americans since they are a steady and reliable resource.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker believes if we don't reform Social Security soon, our children and grandchildren will pay the price. He has consistently pushed to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to ensure they are financially solvent in the long term. If you ask a young person if they think Social Security will be around when they need it, most will tell you no. A 2017 study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies showed 80 percent of millennials are worried that Social Security won't be there for them.

We are grateful for the many sacrifices that our nation's public servants make. However, with the dreadful long-term financial landscape for Social Security, it is time to make crucial financial decisions. Those who paid into our system by working one and sometimes two jobs deserve short- and long-term solutions. Americans who've done what the United States asked of them need to have comfort knowing their commitment to help their country was not in vain. We are calling on our Tennessee members of Congress to take action to help protect those hard-earned dollars Americans have committed to cover a portion of their retirement needs.

Conwell Hooper is executive director of American Senior Alliance, a not-for-profit organization that advocates on behalf of America's greatest generation. He can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally published in the Knoxville Morning News.  


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