As record numbers of Americans approach retirement, the right to retire comfortably and with dignity is threatened by attacks on pensions, Social Security, wages and working people’s ability to save.
A shrinking minority of American workers remain covered by defined-benefit pension plans, the most reliable form of employment-based retirement plan. A concerted, decades-long assault by corporations has largely wiped out defined-benefit plans in the private sector. In the past few years, anti-labor politicians have stirred up “pension envy” against public sector workers who still have defined-benefit plans, and these are increasingly disappearing.
Defined-benefit pensions have been largely replaced by defined-contribution plans, which are less costly for employers and more risky to workers. Defined-contribution plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b), were created to supplement defined-benefit pension plans and as a tax shelter for savings by high-salaried managers and professionals, but are instead used by employers to replace pensions. Defined-contribution plans do not provide reliable post-retirement income. Their effectiveness is limited by the workers’ ability to save, which has been hindered by declining wages and unsteady employment. And as we saw during the stock market crash of 2008, these accounts can be decimated by a general economic collapse, as well as by bad investment decisions.
Social Security is the main source of retirement income for most Americans. According to a 2019 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security payments comprise at least 50 percent of income for half of all retirees, and 90 percent or more of income for one in four retirees.
Currently Social Security is drawing on the $2.9 trillion surplus in its trust fund, and is projected to fully meet its obligations through 2035. After this time, without a tax increase or other changes, about 77 percent of benefits could be paid using incoming funds. This future shortfall could be largely eliminated by removing the “cap” on income subject to the FICA payroll tax, currently $132,900 per year.
Removing the cap is one simple and fair solution. Over the 80-year history of Social Security, the prospect of shortfalls has appeared before, and each time it’s been addressed through a bipartisan agreement to raise the payroll tax on employers and employees that funds Social Security. Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan, have supported such increases to keep Social Security solvent. But present-day Republicans will not even consider such increases, and many corporate Democrats and the corporate media subscribe to the Wall Street-Washington consensus that Social Security is an unwarranted “entitlement” that must be cut or privatized. The record of recent Democratic presidents on defending Social Security is not good. Both President Clinton and President Obama sought bipartisan agreements with Republicans that would have undermined Social Security.
Retirement experts advise that, to live in modest comfort, the average worker will need retirement income equaling 75 to 90 percent of pre-retirement income. But Social Security benefits currently replace only about 40 percent of the typical worker’s pre-retirement income. A sensible long-term solution to the retirement income crisis is to expand and improve Social Security, increasing the benefits to ensure that all Americans can look forward to a secure retirement.
The drafters and supporters of the Social Security Act of 1935 hoped eventually to significantly increase the benefits, broaden the groups of Americans covered, and add medical care and other benefits. Retirement security, like healthcare, is a fundamental right for all people. We need an expansion of Social Security into a “single-payer” source of adequate retirement income. Our predecessors in the labor movement fought for the principle that every person should have the right to retire with dignity and security. Working people need to take up the demand of that earlier generation. Social Security must be expanded to fully live up to its name, and provide true retirement security for all.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THIS 76th UE CONVENTION:
- Demands Congress address the country's retirement security crisis by expanding Social Security to pay retired workers 75 to 90 percent of their pre-retirement income;
- Demands that our elected representatives reject all efforts to privatize Social Security, reduce benefits, undermine cost of living adjustments (COLA) or raise the retirement age, and that they return the retirement age for full Social Security to age 65;
- Calls upon Congress to remove the cap on Social Security taxes so that all contribute the same percentage of earnings to the trust fund, and to tax unearned income (capital gains and investment income) on the same basis as wages and salaries;
- Demands our elected officials reject all schemes to undermine our existing private and public-sector pension systems;
- Urges locals and regions to actively support struggles to defend the pensions and retirement benefits of both public and private sector workers that are under attack;
- Calls for the union at all levels to deepen discussions and coalition building with other unions, senior citizen organizations and allies including Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and other potential allies to build a broad movement for universal retirement security;
- Calls upon Congress to require that all public-sector workers are covered by Social Security.