Today, November 1, my wife and I are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary. I use the term celebrating loosely. We’re staying home. Rather than sitting down in a nice restaurant, we plan to order takeout. We’re in our 60s, so we’re doing all we can to avoid places where we’d run a high risk of becoming infected with a virus that hits the elderly especially hard. We’re not quite ready to retire fully, so we still have to face daily exposure as it is. But we’re doing our best to minimize our probabilities of making potentially hazardous contacts.
Such is life in COVID era America—particularly as we seek to stay afloat throughout the virus’s overwhelming third wave. As most of us know, however, it didn’t have to be like this. The nation once considered the most advanced in the world did not have to be the global hotspot for this controllable virus. The once mighty United States of America—which accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population—should not account for more than 20 percent of the world’s COVID infections and COVID-related deaths. But in Trumpist America, oughts and facts all too often are at odds.
Forty years ago I could not have imagined the world in general and the United States in particular approaching a global financial recession caused by a global viral pandemic. Even the medical expertise of 1980 seemed more than a match for any virus that might seek to invade humanity. And certainly by 2020, advanced technology would (should) be more than sufficient to beat any microscopic invader. But here we are, with just short of 230,000 U.S. COVID deaths, with ominous charts showing U.S. infections spiking higher by the day, and with a president who refuses to admit those frightening facts.
So, my wife and I will spend our 40th anniversary sequestered inside—not all bad—and, among other things, discuss the future of Social Security. The election, two days hence, will dramatically affect that essential retirement program.
As most Americans already know, Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program. “This means that today’s workers pay Social Security taxes into the program and money flows back out as monthly income to beneficiaries.” That system worked fine when the program was established in the mid-1930s. Back then, 40 workers supported each Social Security recipient. By 1950 the ratio had dropped to 16 to one. The ratio is now about three workers per recipient, and by 2030 the ratio is expected to fall to two workers per beneficiary. Obviously, that is not sustainable.
Among the many solutions proposed, virtually all fall under one of the following four categories (or incorporate some combination of these four):
1. Substantial tax increases or massive cuts in other federal programs
2. Increase the age at which retirees can draw from Social Security
3. Substantial Social Security benefit reductions
4. Personal Retirement Accounts (PRAs) — also called Individual Accounts (IAs) — to compensate for the benefit reductions.
Trump’s Record on Social Security
During the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump promised to protect Social Security. Since then he’s generally ignored the program. However his repeated calls for deferrals, reductions—or even elimination—of payroll taxes would be “a threat to Social Security no matter how he casts it,” according to an Associated Press article that cites the Congressional Budget Office.
Even before the COVID pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation’s economy, Social Security was, as stated above, facing a potential crisis. Back in 2004, the American Association of Retired Persons’ (AARP) Public Policy Institute wrote, “Under the intermediate cost assumptions of the Social Security trustees, the Old Age and Disability Trust Funds … will be depleted in 2038 and tax revenue will cover only 73 percent of benefits.” COVID will almost certainly hasten that depletion. Yet the Trump administration has done next to nothing—other than callously proposing cuts to SSDI disability benefits—to prepare for that looming crisis. Nor does it appear that Mr. Trump has any plan to address the crisis during a second term.
Biden’s Plan for Social Security
Unlike Trump’s very familiar ignore-the-problem-and-hope-it-goes-away-magically approach to Social Security’s looming insolvency, Joe Biden has already addressed the issue. Biden’s plan would not just maintain benefits but increase them. His plan would do so by increasing taxes on wealthy businesses and individuals. (Not across the board, for all Americans, as falsely claimed by Trump and his cronies.) No more tax exemptions for earnings over $137,700. Of course, a president’s Social Security-related tax proposal would need to pass Congressional approval, which points to the need for Democrats to maintain their majority in the House and regain the majority in the Senate. So, if you haven’t voted yet, get busy.
An Obvious Choice
The vast majority of Americans have depended on—or will do so—Social Security as part, most, or even all of their retirement-era income. The COVID pandemic has made the need for Social Security solvency more important than ever. Joe Biden is committed to solving this crucial problem. The incumbent—despite his 2016 campaign pledge—has done nothing to secure this lifeline for the elderly. (Or perhaps his plan is simply to reduce costs by letting the COVID pandemic eliminate hundreds of thousands of elderly Americans from the Social Security program.)
This is not the way I’d have chosen for my dear wife and me to spend our 40th anniversary, and I suspect it would not have been like this had the 2016 election turned out differently. Please, folks, we have just two days remaining to end the reign of vicious presidential incompetence and cowardly Congressional empowerment. If you have not done so, go vote. Please.