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John Dougherty Headshot

Fix Social Security, Now!

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There has been much hue and cry about the future of Social Security, one of the most visionary and popular programs in our nation's history.

The trust fund is expected to become insolvent in 2037. That seems like a long time off, but we should act soon so those workers paying into it now will not be left holding an empty bag.

Americans have done their part by contributing, and they should never be short-changed on the benefits promised them.

This problem can be fixed relatively easily, but it will take a level of political will our leaders have not shown for some time. (Having said that, we can all give thanks that congressional Democrats, who were in the minority during the first six years of the George W. Bush presidency, had the resolve to resist the privatization of Social Security. Can you imagine where we'd be now if the shysters on Wall Street had gotten their hands on Social Security?)

I advocate raising the income cap -- currently $106,000 -- on Social Security taxation. Anyone earning more than that pays into the system only on the first $106,000.

This means that the only people who've flourished in the past decade -- the upper crust of society -- have added nothing more to the trust fund as their incomes exploded. It's an inherently regressive system. Someone who makes $1 million a year is paying a tiny fraction of their earnings into Social Security compared to someone earning $50,000 a year.

Removing this cap, or adjusting it upwards, will resolve the projected revenue shortfalls and keep Social Security solvent heading into the next century.

Some favor reducing benefits or raising the retirement age. I do not think this is fair. Such measures would hurt middle class Americans most while cushioning those in the highest income brackets -- many of whom have lucrative retirement nest eggs beyond Social Security.

Market reactionaries might label my solution as "a redistribution of wealth."

I have a message for the marketeers: The wealth has already been redistributed -- upwards.

The current gap between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the remainder of us is as wide now as it was prior to the Great Depression. And this yawning gap has only grown during the current recession.

In 1978, CEOs at the largest U.S. companies earned 35 times as much as the average worker. Today, that figure exceeds 300 to 1, according to the Harvard Business Review. Over the past 30 years, the highest earners in the U.S. saw dramatic growth in incomes while, adjusted for inflation, the lowest earners (though they are producing more than ever) actually make less than they did 30 years ago.

The rich are becoming progressively richer while prospects for the rest of us seem to grow dimmer by the day. In spite of this, GOP leaders are still calling for changes in Social Security that would hit the middle class hardest.

It's time to stand up for middle class workers while ensuring everyone a dignified retirement. Restoring Social Security's solvency by raising the income cap will allow us to keep our promises to America's unrivaled work force.