It is remarkable that social security hasn’t been a more issue in the presidential race. After all, Governor Romney has proposed a plan that would imply cuts of more than 40% for middle-class workers just entering the labor force . Since social security is hugely popular across the political spectrum, it would seem that President Obama could gain an enormous advantage by clearly proclaiming his support for the program.
But President Obama has consistently refused to rise to the defense of social security. In fact, in the first debate, he explicitly took the issue off the table, telling the American people that there is not much difference between his position on social security and Romney’s.
On its face, this is difficult to understand. In addition to being good politics, there are also solid policy grounds for defending social security. The social security system is perhaps the greatest success story of any program in US history. By providing a core retirement income, it has lifted tens of millions of retirees and their families out of poverty. It also provides disability insurance to almost the entire workforce. The amount of fraud in the system is minimal, and the administrative costs are less than one 20th as large as the costs of private-sector insurers.
In addition, the program is more necessary now than ever. The economic mismanagement of the last two decades has left the baby boomers ill-prepared for retirement – few have traditional pensions. The stock market crashes of the last 15 years have left 401(k)s depleted, and the collapse of the housing bubble destroyed much of their housing equity, which has always been the main source of wealth for middle-income families.
It would be great if we had reason to believe that the generations that followed had better retirement prospects, but we don’t. Even in good times, the 401(k) system does more to enrich the financial industry than to provide a secure retirement income. Any reasonable projection indicates that social security will provide the bulk of retirement income for most middle-class retirees long into the future. In this context, the idea of cutting back benefits, even for younger workers, seems misguided…
Dean Baker ponders the lack of focus on Social Security via Alternet: