An Unkind Cut

Reduction in Social Security benefits could be disastrous for blacks

President Bush is looking to privatize Social Security in a move that could spell disaster for the approximately 4.6 million African Americans in the program.

In order to fund the transition from a pay-as-you-go system (currently the program is a transfer program, with taxes from workers going to beneficiaries) to a private system (in which taxes would go to future beneficiaries similar to 401[k] plans or IRAs), the program would have to carve out money for future retirees with privatized accounts, while also trying to pay current beneficiaries. This would mean cutting benefits for survivors and the disabled, many of who are African American.

Because people who get the retirement benefit receive benefits for a longer time, they make up the lion’s share of current recipients. However, looking at new rather than current recipients more accurately reflects the importance of the disability and survivors’ benefit. Two-thirds of new black recipients get either disability or survivors’ benefits. An analysis by the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality shows that more than one million children are lifted out of poverty because of Social Security benefits. The study further shows that the savings of workers who die young would only cover 7% of the current benefit level. But the President’s commission would cut the benefit level by as much as 40%.

Here’s how you can speak out. Write the two Congressional Committee Chairs in Washington who oversee legislation on Social Security: Congressman William Thomas, chair of the Committee on Ways and Means, 1102 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C., 20510; and Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, 511 Hart Senate Office Bldg. Washington, D.C., 20510.

For the latest data on who is getting the many benefits of the program, visit the Social Security Administration’s Website at www.ssa.gov/statistics/ Supplement/2001/index.html. Then check out the following interesting report from the Social Security Administration on the earnings and potential savings of African Americans who receive disability, or die young at www .ssa.gov/policy/pubs/rsn/rsn2000-01 .pdf. Finally, take a look at how Social Security’s current structure affects African Americans at www.ssa.gov/ policy/pubs/SSB/v62n2y1999/polMi noritiesan.pdf.

The idea of the private accounts might look good on paper, but when the current system would face a $1 trillion shortfall because diverting the funds from current beneficiaries would have to be made up by raising taxes or cutting benefits for current or future beneficiaries, the idea loses its appeal.

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