Recently at the AARP headquarters across from Plaza Guadalupe, I was presented the “AARP Legislative Champion Award.” Joined by local volunteers and neighborhood leaders from the West End Hope in Action, we visited with seniors about their concerns.
After the 1929 stock market crash and bank failures, President Franklin Roosevelt actually understood how to “Make American Great Again.” It was not through stirring hate or fearmongering. He did not settle for the “every man for himself” approach. He brought people together and showed how working together we could solve problems like that of millions of older Americans, who during the Great Depression were penniless.
Out of that concern, he led efforts to establish Social Security, which last month celebrated its 81st birthday. In those eight plus decades, Social Security has never been a day late or a dollar short. This most successful and essential federal initiative provides modest retirement, disability and survivor benefits to nearly 60 million Americans, including 42.5 million retirees and more than 9 million veterans, who are receiving over $73 million of their earned benefits each month.
Stable retirement, like a solid home, must be built on a strong foundation. If Wall Street banks undermine your private retirement or misfortune strikes, Social Security will still be there as a backstop. For many, it is what puts food in the fridge and keeps the lights on, week after week. This federally-guaranteed source of income provides 90 percent or more of the income for 1 in 3 seniors overall and about half of unmarried seniors.
This is especially important to women, who live longer than men after decades of being paid less on average than men. And Social Security will continue to be vital, especially to the majority of workers, who have no private pension coverage, and more than a third, who have no savings set aside specifically for retirement.
Yet the benefits of Social Security are not limited to retirement. It is the sole source of life insurance for many of the more than 4 million children who receive benefits each month because one or both of their parents have died or become disabled. It is also the primary source of disability insurance, ensuring that when a loved one becomes too disabled to work, some support will be available. Social Security is our most effective anti-poverty program, raising 21 million Americans, including 14.5 million seniors, out of poverty. In addition, it is an economic driver. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare estimates that in 2014, Social Security contributed $1.6 trillion nationally and about $107.7 billion in Texas to the economy in the form of additional spending and other economic activity.
Despite these benefits, the drive to dismantle Social Security remains a real threat, against which I have consistently worked. While Social Security receives ample revenue to pay all promised benefits through 2034, we should work to extend its solvency. Some see privatization as an option, a tantalizing prize for a host of Wall Street financial interests. But privatizing will only reduce solvency and endanger benefits for millions of current beneficiaries.
The work that AARP does to protect Social Security and Medicare is extremely important. Social Security and Medicare represent a commitment that we make to each other, knowing that, due to no fault of our own, through disability, injury or old age, we may need help to enjoy the dignity we have earned by a lifetime of work and to access health care.
I am committed to continuing to defend this life-saving, irreplaceable, social insurance. We need to strengthen and improve retirement security, not promote insecurity by privatizing it.