This past Wednesday, when I attended Students for Saving Social Security’s event on Social Security reform with roughly 300 other young people, I was overcome by an unusual Washington, D.C. emotion—hope.
Having only lived in our nation’s capital for about a year, I have not yet succumbed to the total disillusionment and cynicism of many people, but it has certainly affected my optimistic tendencies.
But in contradiction to my sometimes-attitude that nothing in this city ever gets done, let alone gets done right, I found myself believing something could be changed.
Social Security was considered for decades to be the third rail of American politics and that even discussing reform would cost elections. It seems many politicians still fear reprisals, considering that President Bush attempted to spur reform measures not long ago, but little happened in Congress.
In addition to public servants, groups like the AARP have blocked reform by terrifying seniors and making them believe that reform will cause their benefit checks to get smaller or disappear. Last summer, the AARP tabled at my county’s fair in rural New York and had literature with blatant lies about the social security system and about what would happen to seniors if reform occurred.
While seniors understand their immediate need for the social security system, a more unlikely demographic is standing up and demanding change. Students for Saving Social Security (S4) was founded by Jonathan Swanson and Patrick Wetherille in April 2005. In that short time, they have expanded to 228 chapters at American universities and have over 3600 members.
At their event last Wednesday, Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, “A lot of people don’t have the vision you do. They think it [Social Security] is for old people.”
As evidenced by the rapid growth of S4, a number of young people are concerned that Social Security reform happen now, because they realize their financial security is at stake.
“People say the crisis is in 2040, but I think the crisis is on Friday when I get my paycheck and see how much is taken out and I know I won’t get it back,” said Max Pappas, Director of Policy for Freedomworks.
The reason change must happen is because, as DeMint explained: money currently pours in from wage-earners, at the rate of 12.4 percent of an individual’s income, and goes right back out to current retirees and to other government programs. Add to that the increasing number of retirees and the declining number of payees and you have a system in crisis.
“It [money going into Social Security] doesn’t get saved,” said the Senator who also cautioned that if the system is not fixed soon, it will be solved by raising taxes and cutting benefits.
But it is not Senator DeMint’s belief that reform can happen that gave me hope, it was something touched on by Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and reinforced by Pappas.
Kolbe told the assembled youth to go home from their D.C. internships and mobilize their communities. “Tell your legislators to stand up and that you will support them if they do it [fight to reform Social Security],” said Kolbe.
Providing a relevant rewrite of a famous Adam Smith passage, Pappas said, “It is not from the benevolence of Republicans, Democrats or Independents to enact [Social Security] policy reform, but from their own self-interest. Their interest is reelection so if you want change, play to their self-interest and urge reform.”
And it is that understanding—that most of those 300 young people have the ability, if they choose, to go back to their families, communities and colleges and tell others the truth about the broken Social Security system, and urge reform—that gives me hope here in Washington.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer for Accuracy in Academia.