Social Security Privatization And The War On Women

Good grief, this nonsense is just exhausting. Nothing is ever settled with these people, they have been coming after Social Security for 75 years, and they just don't quit, no matter how many times they get chased down with walkers and eaten alive by gray panthers. It's like they are programmed or genetically manipulated, like one of those creepy super-soldiers from science fiction that can't stop fighting after the war is over, even though they recognize the reality.

Nah, I give them too much credit in that scenario. They are just zombie-nihilists and Social Security is the brain they are driven to eat.

To prove the charges I just filed against them, I offer into evidence Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas.

House Republicans on Friday introduced legislation that would allow workers to partially opt out of Social Security immediately, and fully opt out after 15 years.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, and several other Republicans introduced the Savings Account for Every American (SAFE) Act. Under the bill, workers would immediately have 6.2 percent of their wages sent to a "SAFE" account each year.

That would take the place of the 6.2 percent the workers now contributed to Social Security.

Another 6.2% is sent to Social Security by employers. Under the Sessions bill, employers would continue to make this matching contribution to Social Security, but after 15 years, employers could also send that amount to the employee's SAFE account.

Sessions said this transition to a private retirement savings option is needed because Social Security last year began paying out more money than it took in.

"Our nation's Social Security Trust Fund is depleting at an alarming rate, and failure to implement immediate reforms endangers the ability of Americans to plan for their retirement with the options and certainty they deserve," Sessions said. "To simply maintain the status quo would weaken American competitiveness by adding more unsustainable debt and insolvent entitlements to our economy when we can least afford it."

Sigh. They just keep telling the zombie-lie about the trust fund. Okay, let's do this once more, this time with feeling: There is no Social Security crisis. The trust fund he is pretending to be panicked about was established to deal with the baby boom generation that started retiring and coming into the system this year. It was built up over the last three decades for this very purpose. And Sessions knows this full well. When one tells an untruth that doesn't square with reality and one knows one is telling an untruth, that is a lie and the person doing the lying is what is known, in the common vernacular, as a liar. Pete Sessions is, therefore, a liar. This is now an established fact, verified by empirical evidence.

The legislation is couched in inoccuous, friendly even, terms like "employee choice" but the part that they don't mention and the press hasn't bothered to report is what would happen if legislation like this were to would collapse the system.

Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system. If large numbers of people "opted out" then it would collapse -- which is really what the privatizers want, they just can't come right out and say that.

Now let's be realistic. This legislation is not going anywhere so long as Democrats control one chamber of Congress and the Presidency. Privatizing Ryan left Social Security out of his crosshairs because even he knows that Social Security privatization is a non-starter. It's only been six years since Bush floated his privatization scheme, and he never recovered politically from the attempt. The bill has only attracted a handful of co-sponsors and they could all be accurately described as "the epitome of wingnuttery." There is no rush to bring it to the floor for a vote, and I seriously doubt John Boehner lets one take place, not with the Medicare fiasco still nipping at his heels and threatening the republican majority in the House.

But that hasn't stopped the Democrats from making hay out of it anyway.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) on Tuesday predicted that House Republican plans to let workers opt out of Social Security would fail as voters realize how it will threaten their retirement.

"Seniors who have paid into Social Security through a lifetime of hard work shouldn't end up in a risky privatization scheme to gamble their retirement on Wall Street," Israel said. "The public has rejected this kind of Social Security privatization in the past and will again."

Israel accused Republicans of looking to resolve the government's fiscal crisis by scaling back Medicare and Social Security while ignoring higher corporate taxes.

"Everyone agrees we need to tighten our belt, but why do out-of-touch Republicans insist on tightening it around our retirees without asking Big Oil companies for one dime of sacrifice?" he asked.

That's all well and good, and Israel is correct in leveling the charge. But there is another angle I would like to see the Democrats pursuing here, and that is how privatizing the programs that we have established for retirees is of a piece with the GOP's war on women, because any privatization scheme would hit women especially hard.

Social Security is the single most effective program to keep women out of poverty in their retirement years that the nation has ever created.

Here are some facts about women and Social Security that you may not know, but should.

  • 26% of women aged 65-69 are reliant upon Social Security for virtually all of their income (90% or more) and that number climbs as women age.
  • Although women are more reliant on Social Security to provide their basic needs in retirement, men receive benefits that are about 25% more than those of women. The average benefit for a woman is around $12,000 per year, while for men it is about $16,000 per year.
  • This is especially important for women, because far more American women than men -- 11% versus 7% -- lived in poverty in 2009 (the last year for which complete numbers are available.)
  • It becomes even more important for people who live alone. When older people live alone, the likelihood that they live in poverty jumps dramatically, to 17% for women and to 12% for men.
  • Minority women are hit especially hard, with more than 20% of African-American, Hispanic and Native American women 65 and over living in poverty. The poverty rate is 8% for non-Hispanic white females in this age group, and 15% for Asian women.
  • Without Social Security, one half of all women over 65 and two-thirds of women over 65 who live alone would live in poverty.
  • 3.1. million children received Social Security survivors benefits after losing the support of a parent to death or disability, and those benefits lifted 1.1 million of those children out of poverty.

Since Social Security became the law of the land in 1935, it has proven extremely effective at standing between women and the proverbial poor house, and that is not a pattern that shows any signs of changing any time soon. While it is true that the gender-iniquities that were part of the program at it's inception have been righted, women are still playing catch-up. Much of the labor performed by women is uncompensated, and therefore doesn't pay anything in to the program for her to draw on later. Women still sacrifice large amounts of their prime earning time to provide care for young children, aging parents and eventually young grandchildren. This negatively impacts the amount of monthly benefit they receive in retirement -- and if republican efforts to gut Medicare and Medicaid see the light of day, the amount of uncompensated work women do will increase dramatically. What do the privatizers think will happen to women who could not simultaneously care for their families and pay into the system? They certainly aren't going to deliver us delayed compensation by paying in for us what would be paid in if our labor was compensated.

I sincerely believe that they are intentionally coming after us uppity sluts between 45 and 55. We didn't burn our bras. We burned the hand of anyone who touched us in an inappropriate way. They've been wanting to put us back in our place since high school, and they see this as the best chance they've had since the days when Scott Brown was a Cosmo centerfold.

The returns on private accounts would depend on volatile markets and would not have COLAs built in to safeguard against inflation, nor would they provide spousal and dependent benefits. And that uncompensated labor that already impacts women's benefits in the current system? Privatization schemes would devastate any hope for economic security in retirement, because without the shared risk pool that Social Security represents, many women -- especially those who took a time out of the work force to raise families and take care of aged or ailing family members -- would quickly outlive their assets and be destitute.

We are not worthless, nor is our labor, and as I have said before, the older I get, the crankier I get about the fact that women are discounted, dismissed and disrespected with distressing frequency, and the sudden flurry of legislation that is aimed at putting all of us, regardless of age or fertility status, back in our place is methodical and intentional and something we have to stop now, before The Handmaid's Tale comes to read like current events.

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This post originally appeared at Show Me Progress and is part of a series I am writing as a blogging fellow for the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 270 national and state organizations dedicated to preserving and strengthening Social Security.


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