Today marks 79 years since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Social Security into law on August 14th, 1935. Today, our Social Security system celebrates nearly eight decades of ensuring basic economic security for America's workers and their families when wages are lost as the result of death, disability, or old age.
Social Security provides a strong foundation of retirement income, is the most important source of life insurance for families with young children, as well as disability insurance for all of us, lessens the squeeze on extended families, reduces inequality, and keeps tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. Today is the time to build on the legacy started in 1935 and expand Social Security.
Our organization, Social Security Works, and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition that we co-chair are celebrating Social Security's birthday by releasing a series of reports illustrating the critical importance of Social Security for Americans in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and four territories. (Twelve of the reports are released in Spanish as well as English.) Here are just a few of the striking facts from the reports:
• Social Security provided benefits to 57,978,610 Americans in 2013, 1 in 5 (18.3 percent) US residents - including retirees, people with disabilities, young children whose parents are deceased or disabled, widow(er)s and spouses.
• Americans received Social Security benefits totaling $812 billion in 2013, roughly six percent of their personal income.
• Without Social Security, the elderly poverty rate would have increased from 1 in 11 (8.9 percent) to 4 in 9 (44.1 percent).
In addition to the numerical data, our state reports include another compelling feature: The personal stories of Americans from around the country, for whom Social Security has been vital.
Gus from Wisconsin, a decorated Vietnam veteran, severely injured his spine in a car crash. Thankfully, Social Security Disability Insurance was there to support him. "To put it quite simply," says Gus, "SSDI was a life saver." And Social Security is also there for over nine million other veterans, 1 in 4, who receive benefits today and millions more in the future.
Ruby from Arizona, a mother of five, relied on Social Security Survivors Benefits to undergird her income after her husband was killed in a hunting accident. "I don't know what I would have done without Social Security," she says.
Susie from North Dakota worked hard all her life, starting as a waitress at the age of 14 and continuing in her family's shoe store. Now that she is a 68-year-old widow and retiree, she relies on her $700 a month Social Security check. Susie says that if her Social Security was cut, she would have to cut her food budget.
Why are we fighting to protect and expand our Social Security system? For Gus, Ruby, Susie, and millions of Americans like them who rely on their Social Security benefits for food, medicine, and rent. For our children and grandchildren, our neighbors and communities. As healthcare costs rise while private-sector defined benefit pensions rapidly become extinct, Social Security is more important than ever. But the average Social Security benefit is modest at $14,006 a year. This is well-below what our nation, the richest on Earth, can afford and should provide those who have worked hard throughout their lives to build our economy and provide care and sustenance to their children, grandchildren and severely ill or disabled family and friends.
Two-thirds of today's working Americans are headed towards retirement years in which they will be unable to maintain their standard of living. Yearly benefits averaging just $14,006 are well-below what will be needed to address their and the nation's retirement income crisis.
That's why now is the time to expand our Social Security system. The majority of the House Democratic caucus supports expanding the program, as do Senators from around the country - from Mark Begich of Alaska to Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Our expansion proposal, the All Generations Plan, would, among other expansions, increase Social Security benefits by 10% for all beneficiaries, enact a more generous cost of living adjustment, and provide a minimum benefit of 125% of poverty. These steps would ensure that Social Security is even stronger and more important in the future. It would ensure that we are passing forward this treasured legacy left to all of us by those who came before.
Upon signing Social Security into law, President Roosevelt stated "This law represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means completed." Let us heed Roosevelt's wise words. It's time to place the next bricks on that cornerstone. Let's work to make sure that next year, as we celebrate the program's 80th birthday, we all, working together, give our nation's working families the gift of expansion.