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Social Security Still Going Strong at 70

The truth is that Social Security wasn’t broke in 1980, 1990, or 2012, and it’s not broke today.

President Roosevelt signs Social Security Act, 14 August 1935. (Photo: Library of Congress)

This week will mark the 70th anniversary of the Social Security Act.

On August 14, 1934, The Progressive wrote about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal victory in securing real income security for Americans in the aftermath of the Great Depression caused by the Wall Street crash of 1929. (A copy of that story about this historic law can be downloaded below.) As detailed in that story, the bill did not pass Congress unanimously and was attacked by the rightwing of that era.

For seven decades, Social Security has been under attack by opponents who consider government-guaranteed pensions for Americans to receive as they get older or if they become disabled to be socialism and unAmerican.

Social Security is one of the most successful and most popular government programs in American history.

For more than 30 years, opponents of Social Security have peddled the lie that the Social Security Trust Fund is going bankrupt or is nearly insolvent.

The roots of the efforts to attack Social Security run deep in the far right.

They include CEOs such as Fred Koch, who promoted the John Birch Society’s red-scare-era smears that such New Deal reforms were “socialist” or “communist.” In the 1960s, Fred’s sons, Charles and David, inherited his fortune—and his ideas. Charles began funding think tanks to develop arguments for dismantling Social Security.

David ran for vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket with a platform that included privatizing Social Security. Since then he’s spent millions on groups to push disinformation about Social Security and promote an array of sophisticated corporate propaganda. The donations of Koch Industries and others to groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that promote claims that Social Security is going broke have paid off.

Also, as detailed in SourceWatch (which is published by The Progressive/the Center for Media and Democracy), billionaire Peter Peterson has pledged a billion dollars to attacking Social Security.

Last year, CMD uncloaked and debunked one of the astroturf groups funded by Peterson, called “Fix the Debt,” which lost its battle last year to get a “grand bargain” on the deficit that would include harmful changes to Social Security.

But, it is part of the rightwing playbook to attack Social Security in a variety of ways, most often by asserting it’s broke and sometimes by calling it a scam, as did most of the 2012 GOP presidential candidates, or a even a “pyramid scheme,” as asserted by Rep. Michelle Bachmann of the Tea Party caucus in Congress.

The truth is that Social Security wasn’t broke in 1980, 1990, or 2012, and it’s not broke today.

According to trusted actuaries, in about 25 years Social Security could face a shortfall—a gap that would allow it to pay most but not all of the earned benefits—unless it’s fixed.

One easy solution is to apply Social Security taxes to all earned income. Under the current system, any wages over the first $106,800 are exempt from Social Security withholding. If we close this loophole soon, the potential shortfall—a quarter century from now—would be solved. Only about 6 percent of Americans earn that much, and removing this exemption would help ensure that the other 94 percent have the protection of this basic social safety net for decades to come.

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