On August 14, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Social Security into law. In the 82 years since, Social Security has transformed this nation and become among the most successful programs in history.
In the 1930s, over half of older Americans lived in poverty. Those who were not able to fall back on family support were forced to reside in poorhouses, dismal institutions where they were treated like prisoners. Today, Social Security lifts over 21 million Americans out of poverty, and the senior poverty rate has fallen to ten percent.
Social Security provides stability, security, and freedom to Americans during old age because it is a guaranteed benefit that you can never outlive. Regardless of if a person's retirement lasts for five years or thirty-five, their monthly checks will always be there.
But Social Security isn't just for seniors. It also protects working families in the event of disability or after the loss of a breadwinner. In fact, Social Security is our nation's largest children's program. Over six million children either receive benefits directly or live in a household with a beneficiary. When workers contribute to Social Security with every paycheck, they are acquiring three different types of insurance protections for themselves and their families: Old age, disability, and survivor's insurance.
We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world at the wealthiest moment in our history. Protecting and expanding Social Security is a question of values, not affordability.
These benefits make an enormous difference in the lives of over 60 million beneficiaries. They are, however, extremely modest. Average benefits are less than $16,000 a year. That's quite low by global standards, and particularly sobering number when you consider that one-third of beneficiaries rely on Social Security for all or nearly all of their income.
That number is likely to be even higher for future generations of retirees. Traditional pensions are becoming increasingly rare. 401(k)s, which were supposed to replace pensions, are failing working and middle class families. The median retirement account balance is only $3,000 – and for near retirement households, it's only $14,500.
The good news is that there is a solution to our looming retirement income crisis, one that President Roosevelt spelled out at Social Security's inception 82 years ago. As he signed the bill into law, FDR said "This law represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means completed."
Subsequent generations heeded FDR's words by improving and expanding Social Security. Disability benefits were added in 1954 and cost of living increases were added in 1977 to ensure that benefits do not erode over time.
Now, it is our generation's turn to take up the mantle by expanding Social Security's benefits to ensure that today's and tomorrow's retirees can live and retire with dignity.
Politicians need to listen to the American people, who overwhelmingly support protecting and expanding Social Security
It won't be an easy fight. Wall Street billionaires have opposed Social Security for decades, and they can't keep their greed out of our earned benefits. They've spent millions on a campaign to undermine public confidence in the program and push the claim that we can't afford to maintain, let alone expand, Social Security benefits. Their con is simply to convince people they are going to receive nothing, so that they will accept less than they are owed.