Social Security remains one of the most popular federal programs, playing a vital role in ensuring financial security for older adults, people with disabilities and their dependents. As we grow older, it is important to understand the role that Social Security will play in our financial future.
While the Trump administration is yet to propose any outright changes to Social Security, it will be important to closely watch the current tax-reform debate and to be vigilant against any tax policies that may harm Social Security.
What is Social Security?
Social Security is an insurance program distributed by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and used to provide benefits specifically for individuals who are either retired or disabled, as well as their dependents. The primary goal of the federal program is to provide financial support to people who are currently retired or unable to work.
The Social Security Act, the legislation that created Social Security in the United States, was passed in 1935 during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. In the eight decades since, millions of older adults and people with disabilities have relied on Social Security. According to the SSA, roughly 59-million Americans receive retirement, disability or survivors’ benefits from the system each year.
Why is Social Security important for LGBT people?
Studies have shown that the LGBT population is at an economic disadvantage, compared to the general population. Many LGBT elders have experienced employment discrimination, leading to wage disparities, reduced lifetime earnings and fewer opportunities to build pensions. It is therefore especially important for LGBT older adults to have access to federal programs that help alleviate any financial burdens.
Roughly 10 percent of seniors nationwide live in poverty. The Administration on Aging projects that, without Social Security, that figure would be closer to 50 percent. According to the most recent data, income for individuals aged 65 or older increased by 144 percent for married couples and 135 percent for unmarried individuals once retired when Social Security benefits were added.
What is the current state of Social Security?
The SSA reports that in 2017, the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is $1,360 and the average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,172. According to a recent Trustee’s Report, however, the current Social Security program is spending more on beneficiary expenses than it is collecting from working taxpayers, and this trend is projected to continue for the next 75 years.
Close to $3 trillion currently sits in a Social Security trust fund, money accumulated over the decades when Social Security was bringing in more money than it was paying out. Once this trust is paid out, the system will rely primarily on payroll taxes. To keep up with costs, further work will need to be done to change benefit formulas, raise the payroll tax or raise the cap on taxable wage income.
Which brings us to tax reform…
Will tax reform affect Social Security?
Since President Trump took office at the beginning of this year, there have been rumors of major reforms to Social Security. Currently, no action has been taken to change the structure of the program. However, the current tax debate may affect the money that comes in each year to pay for Social Security benefits.
With the Trump administration now focused on tax reform, it will be important to monitor how any tax-reform legislation would impact Social Security. At least one of the proposals released so far has included repealing the Social Security payroll tax that workers currently have deducted from their paychecks. The money collected from this tax is directly used to pay for benefits for those who receive Social Security.
Repealing or reducing the payroll tax from Social Security would be detrimental to the financial security of retirees, people with disabilities and individuals living below the poverty line, unless alternative methods for funding Social Security are implemented.
How can you get involved?
The best way to make an impact in the political process is to make sure that your voice is heard. One of the easiest ways to take action is to contact your government representatives. Anyone wanting to voice their opinion on the important issue of Social Security should send emails or letters or make phone calls to their local representatives and inform them of the need to preserve Social Security and prevent any repeal of taxes that fund Social Security benefits.
Take the time to ensure that your representatives know where you stand on this important issue. Social Security plays a significant role in ensuring financial security as we age, and most Americans cannot afford to see this program come to an end.
Lauren Wendl is a second-year student in the MSW program at Temple University with a concentration in macro social work. She is currently an intern with the LGBT Elder Initiative. To learn more about the LGBT Elder Initiative, visit www.lgbtelderinitiative.org.