co-written by Richard Eskow and Richard Fowler, host of The Richard Fowler Show
Last week, MSNBC's Abby Huntsman expressed some strong opinions about Social Security. That's her right and her privilege. Unfortunately, she also made some inaccurate and misleading statements. (See Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times for details.)
As the saying goes, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. We have written this open letter in order to ask for a correction.
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We're writing you as members of two different generations – boomer and millennial – to ask you for an on-air correction to your recent segment on "The Cycle" focused on millennial and earned-benefit programs. It was frustrating to see you unquestioningly repeat so many misleading talking points about one of our nation's most successful programs: Social Security.
Even more importantly, it was disappointing to see you repeat the phony claim that there is a "generational war" between the young and the old. The real "war" in this country is between the haves and the have-nots, and it's no secret who's winning that one. In fact, this notion of a "generational war" was dreamed up in the think tanks and PR firms of billionaires, so that credulous journalists, politicians, and yes, news anchors, would pick it up and repeat it endlessly.
Mission accomplished: Many of them have. Fortunately, you have a great platform for correcting the record. Here's where you can start:
During your discussion of Social Security, you claimed that we need to increase the retirement age – by as much as 10 years – because life expectancies are about 20 years longer than they were in 1935. But when you factor out the large number of Americans who died young (often of childhood diseases) in the 1930s, and only take into account life expectancy after 65, our lives have been extended only by an average of about six years – and these gains have disproportionately gone to wealthier Americans.
Currently, the "full retirement" age is 66 (it is gradually being raised to 67), but 41 percent of men and 46 percent of women take Social Security at 62, the earliest possible age. Starting Social Security at 62 means that their monthly benefits will be smaller for the rest of their lives, but millions of Americans have no other choice. They have health problems and cannot continue to work at physically demanding jobs, or they are unable to find employment due to age discrimination and the stagnant economy. Raising the retirement age is a Social Security benefit cut. If we increased it to 75, as you advocate, most people would still take Social Security much earlier and end up with drastically reduced lifetime benefits.
You maintained that we need to cut Social Security, or else there will be "nothing left" when it comes time for millennials to retire. The truth is that Social Security can pay out full benefits through 2033, and 75 percent of benefits through 2087. Removing the payroll tax cap so that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share would close most of Social Security's modest funding gap. Instituting a small and incremental increase in the payroll tax (as has been done many times before, as the nation's wealth increases) would close the gap entirely, and allow us to expand benefits. There is no reason to think millennials will not receive 100 percent of promised benefits – as long as the anti-Social Security forces do not succeed in gutting the program in the name of "saving" it.
Let's be real here. We know that Social Security cuts aren't likely to affect baby boomers nearly as much as they will the generations that follow – particularly millennials. So why push the idea that old people are greedy, when all that does is provide ammunition for an argument that will be used to shaft your fellow young people?
Again, we know who's getting all the national wealth, and it's not old people. Let's look at the facts: in 2012, the average Social Security benefit was $13,648, or $1,137 a month. And that's the average – for workers with low earning, or those (primarily women) who take time out of the workforce to perform caregiving work, benefits are often much lower. For two-thirds of beneficiaries, Social Security makes up half their income or more.
Abby, you're fortunate enough to have been born into a well off family. Unfortunately, most Americans are not so lucky. The richest one percent of Americans control over 35 percent of our country's wealth, a massively outsized share of the economic pie. These plutocrats are working mightily to distract the 99 percent by turning them against each other – men vs. women, whites vs. minorities, and as in this case, young vs. old. Young, socially progressive, moderates like you should know better than to play into these divisive, dangerous and disingenuous lies.
We're writing you together because we know that the generations should fight for these programs together. Younger Richard (we tried to call him "Little Richard," but he didn't know who that was) has no desire to throw his parents and grandparents overboard to serve the agenda of the rich. Older Richard (he's not comfortable being described as "Big Richard" for reasons he'd rather not discuss) wants to protect these programs through the generations that will follow his.
Instead of fighting against each other, it is time for all generations to come together and fight inequality by demanding more aid for children, seniors, and down-on-their-luck Americans of all ages. These expansions can be funded by ending special tax breaks for corporations, asking the wealthy to pay their fair share and making targeted cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget.
And before we go, let's not forget student loan debt, crushingly high unemployment rates, and low-wage-no-benefit jobs, which are "the norm" amongst younger Americans. With no solutions in sight from Congress, Social Security is more important than ever for young folks.
Now that you have the facts, we hope that you'll tell the truth and stop buying into deceptive arguments designed to mislead the American people.