Get Elizabeth Warren's Government Hands Off Our Social Security! Just Kidding, Liz, FEEL IT UP PROPER!
Gif via Warren campaign

Elizabeth Warren has a crazy idea: Instead of acting like Paul Ryan should ever have been taken seriously, even once, how about we improve Social Security? She proposes increasing monthly Social Security benefits for everyone currently receiving them by $200 a month, and also taking steps to improve the retirement incomes of those who traditionally have not been able to get much out of Social Security because the system was never very kind to some kinds of workers: "women and caregivers, low-income workers, public sector workers, students and job-seekers, and people with disabilities." Not surprisingly, it's paid for by increasing Social Security taxes on the top two percent of Americans, who currently pay a far smaller portion of their income into the system than most workers.

It's a heck of a good plan, and an economic analysis by Mark Zandy of Moody's Analytics found it would raise 4.9 million seniors out of poverty, increase economic growth, stabilize the Social Security program, and even reduce the federal deficit by a trillion dollars over 10 years. Let's take a look at this sucker, and then have a nice nap. Is there a draft in here?

Warren and her policy team note that with private pensions rapidly becoming a thing of the past, Social Security has become the main source of Americans' retirement income, remarking that

Abouthalf of married seniors and 70% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for at least half of their income. More than 20% of married seniors and 45% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.

For seniors of color, the numbers are especially worrying: For very large percentages, Social Security is their only source of income.

But thanks to decades of stagnant wages, average benefits have shrunk over the years.

For someone who worked their entire adult life at an average wage and retired this year at the age of 66, Social Security will replace just 41% of what they used to make. That's well short of the 70% many financial advisers recommend for a decent retirement[.]

And hooray, that trend is predicted to get even worse for coming retirees, like some of us will even be able to afford to retire, which Fox News thinks is just the nicest news ever. (Ask me how I'll be paying my student loans well into retirement! No, don't; I cry ugly.)

To reverse that trend, Warren calls for an increase of $200 a month for all current and future Social Security recipients. And that extra $2,400 a year is just a start. She wants to make the system more fair, because Social Security has been a lousy deal for some Americans:

Broadly speaking, Social Security benefits track with your income during your working years. That means pay disparities and wrongheaded notions that value salaried work over time spent raising children or caring for elderly relatives carry forward once you retire. That needs to change.

In addition, she'd rejigger the formula for cost of living increases to make them more responsive to the actual costs retirees face, like higher medical care needs. And she rolled out a fun little calculator widget for you to play with, telling you how your own Social Security benefits would change under her plan, regardless of whether you're retired yet.

We won't get into the details, because you can read 'em yourself, but the idea here is to help alleviate the disparities in retirement income that are a legacy of the long-term devaluing of women and their work -- both as mommies, but also right goddamn now, as caregivers for retired parents, for instance; women and men who do caregiving work for relatives would be credited as having ... gosh ... worked. Similarly, Warren proposes adjustments to benefits for widows and widowers, and increased benefits for retiring low-income workers, because -- get a load of this genocidal Khmer Rouge socialism! -- "No one who spends 30 years working and contributing to Social Security should retire in poverty."

Warren would also bring back the survivor benefit for full-time students with a parent who dies or becomes disabled. Congress killed that off under Reagan, and I and Paul Ryan were among the last college students to receive that benefit. ONE of us turned out not to be an Ayn Rand-worshiping asshole, at least. (I may be an asshole, but not the Rand-worshiping variety.)

Warren notes that benefit was especially vital for college attendance by lower-income students, children of parents who hadn't been to college, and African-Americans, and that when Congress dropped the benefit in the 1980s, "college attendance by previously eligible beneficiaries dropped by more than one-third." Not only would she bring it back, she'd increase the eligibility period from age 21 to 24, because college takes longer these days, especially if you're poor or a minority. Oh look, Stuart Varney, MORE DAMN PEOPLE GETTING OPPORTUNITY, HOW HORRIBLE.

Warren's plan would even encourage more people to take apprenticeships and get into training programs by allowing people in such programs to exclude up to three years of wages from their overall average, thus increasing their monthly benefit. She notes, without actually mentioning the Green New Deal, that America is "about to enter a period of immense transformation in the economy," and so there shouldn't be any disincentives to get in the way of people preparing for those newfangled windmill-building jobs.

There's also a heck of a lot about the need to make the very rich pay their fair share. Lots of reasons to do this besides just soaking the rich, which we're all for anyway. But wage inequality has led to an artificially low cap on the total earnings subject to FICA tax, even as top earners make more money than ever:

In 1983, 90% of total wage earnings were below the cap. Now it's just 83%. The top 1% of earners have an estimated effective FICA contribution rate of about 2%, compared to more than 10% for the middle 50% of earners. That amounts to billions of dollars every year that should have gone to Social Security but instead remained in the pockets of the very richest Americans, while the Social Security system slowly starved.

Add to that the fact that the very rich tend to get more of their income from investments than from a paycheck, and you've got a lot of lazy rich takers. So Warren would increase the FICA tax on incomes over $250,000 a year, and impose a Social Security tax on investment income, again limited to those who make over $250,000 a year. That's the top 2 percent of earners. No, no millionaires will be left homeless.

Warren may be on the right track here. For one thing, former Republican senator Phil Gramm took to Fox News yesterday to insist that increasing Social Security benefits for everyone would have a terrible effect on retirees and old folks, because of course he did, the Social Security slashing old asshole.

[Team Warren on Medium / NYT / Fox News]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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