Earlier today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event about Republican attempts to use Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a way to cut and undercut the whole Social Security system. Rather than sticking with the conventional wisdom that Republicans, the media and even some Democrats cling to, Brown argues that what we should be doing now is not just protecting Social Security and SSDI, we should be expanding the programs.
Here are 13 important facts about SSDI you need to know to counter the right-wing spin:
1. SSDI provides protection for 90% of America’s workers and their families if a life-changing disability or illness stops them from being able to work and bring in enough money.
2. SSDI pays modest benefits, averaging just $1,140 per month, less than most workers make before they qualify for the program.
3. For 80% of beneficiaries, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty.
4. The eligibility criteria for SSDI are among the strictest in the world and fewer than 40% of applicants are approved.
5. Nearly 20% of beneficiaries die within five years of first obtaining benefits.
6. Nearly 9 million workers with disabilities receive SSDI benefits, including more than 1 million veterans. More than 150,000 spouses and nearly 2 million children also receive benefits.
7. Beneficiaries pay into SSDI as a portion of their Social Security payroll tax. The current tax rate is 6.2% on the first $117,000 of earnings a worker makes. 5.3% goes to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), the rest goes to the SSDI Trust Fund.
8. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance. Most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers.
9. Most beneficiaries are in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 53.
10. Fewer than 4% of beneficiaries earned more than $10,000 during the year.
11. The United States ranks 30 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of replacement benefit payouts for workers with disabilities.
12. A temporary reallocation of how the 6.2% payroll tax is divided between SSDI and OASI would ensure that both trust funds would be able to remain fully solvent until 2033 and would alleviate the shortage in SSDI funds caused by demographic trends.
13. Beneficiaries face a wide range of significant disabilities, with many having multiple impairments, which include:
31.8% have a “primary diagnosis” of a mental impairment, including 4.2% with intellectual disabilities and 27.6% with other types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
29.8% have a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorder.
8.7% have a cardiovascular condition such as chronic heart failure.
9.3% have a disorder of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, or a sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness.
20.4% include workers living with cancers; infectious diseases; injuries; genitourinary impairments such as end stage renal disease; congenital disorders; metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes; diseases of the respiratory system; and diseases of other body systems
On Feb. 8, the Moral Monday movement, which showed massive momentum in 2013, will return with its biggest event yet, the Moral March on Raleigh. While the state of North Carolina has been moving in a more Democratic direction in recent years in presidential elections, with Barack Obama winning the state in 2008 and coming just two percentage points of winning it again in 2012, extremist Republicans have taken control of the governor’s mansion and the state Assembly.
The Moral March on Raleigh will call out North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and their extreme policies, which have included attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, health care and women’s rights. Organizers expect tens of thousands of North Carolinians to stand up for their rights and fight back against these extreme policies on Feb. 8.
The Moral Monday movement was organized by the Rev. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, which staged protests in Raleigh and throughout the state last year. The events were launched in conjunction with another organization headed by Barber, the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition, and have been supported by more than 150 other organizations. The 13 Moral Monday events in Raleigh in 2013 led to nearly 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience, while events in dozens of other cities around the state helped raise awareness about the strange games afoot in the state capital.
The Moral Monday movement has put forth the People’s Moral Agenda, which includes the following principles and policy goals:
Economic sustainability, alleviating poverty and expanding labor rights.
Fully funded constitutional education.
Health care for all—protecting Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, women’s health and the Affordable Health Care Act.
Addressing disparities in the criminal justice system.
Protecting/expanding voting rights and civil rights.
Fair and just immigration reform.
Equal protection under the law regardless of race, income, gender or sexual orientation.
The Moral Monday movement also has a goal of raising awareness about Art Pope, the extreme financier behind much of the pro-corporate, anti-working family policies that have passed recently in North Carolina. Pope is often referred to as the state’s version of the Koch brothers.
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty and worked with Congress to pass legislation designed to lower poverty levels and mitigate the effects of poverty on America’s families. Not long after the war on poverty initiatives went into effect, and startedshowing significant results, conservatives went on the attack, attempting to weaken, defund or eliminate many of the policies that were working quite well. But the program was so effective that it still helped, and helps, keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. Now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isweighing in on the war on poverty by claiming that it has failed, a smoke screen that he and others are using to continue their agenda to weaken or eliminate the war on poverty.
Two claims are central to conservative arguments that the war on poverty is a failure. The first is tortured logic that goes something like this: “We’ve been fighting the war on poverty for 50 years and poverty still exists, therefore it’s a failure.” Beyond the fact that this level of oversimplification doesn’t belong in a serious conversation about poverty (we rarely “eliminate” problems, we improve the situation as the real world goal), it completely ignores the conservative responsibility for the programs not being as effective as they could be. From budget cuts to added red tape that makes it harder for citizens to participate in lifelines they are eligible for, conservatives have fought for decades to make the war on poverty less successful. To now claim that these lifelines are inherently flawed, as opposed to being sabotaged, is laughable at best.
The second claim relies on a dumbing-down of statistics that would make George W. Bush proud. By the official government poverty measure, the poverty rate in 1964 was 19%. In the latest version of that official number, the rate is 15%. The argument goes that 50 years is a long time and a lot of money to decrease poverty such a small amount. Ignoring the fact that 4% of the population is still millions of people, the official number is flawed. It only includes cash income. Over the years, more and more anti-poverty programs were moved away from direct cash payments to non-cash benefits and tax credits. So this official measure ignores many of the programs designed to keep Americans out of poverty. A more accurate measure is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for non-cash income. The SPM shows a decline in the poverty rate more than twice that of the official number, from 26% in 1967 to 16% now.
It’s clear that by any valid measurement, the war on poverty has been highly successful, particularly when you look at specific policies and what aspects of poverty they target. Here are a few key numbers that show the success of the war on poverty:
Antipoverty programs kept 41 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children.
Social Security kept 26.6 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 17 million seniors and more than 1 million children.
Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and health care subsidies help 150 million Americans get health insurance.
The programs have long-term effects, too. Research shows that children who received food stamps in the 1960s and 1970s grew up healthier and were more likely to finish school. At age 19, they were 6% less likely to have stunted growth, 5% less likely to have heart disease, 16% less likely to be obese and 18% more likely to have completed high school.
This isn’t to say that the war on poverty is an unqualified success or that more doesn’t need to be done. But it is to say that conservative arguments about the war on poverty are highly inaccurate and the policy proposals put for by Rubio and his allies would do the exact opposite of what they claim and would undermine the progress that has been made in the last 50 years. More appropriate solutions to the problems of poverty would roll back right-wing assaults on antipoverty programs and would stimulate job creation and higher wages for working families. But don’t hold your breath thinking that the Marco Rubios of the world will do the right thing.
We’ve heard of the looming retirement security crisis, but this statistic is extremely sobering: The majority of black and Latino workers (62% and 69%, respectively) do not own assets in a retirement account. This is from a new report by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) released this week.
To make things worse, three out of four black households and four out of five Latino households ages 25 to 64 have less than $10,000 in retirement savings, compared to one out of two white households.
“Those are startling findings,” says Diane Oakley, executive director of NIRS. “The typical household of color has nothing saved in a retirement account.”
Oakley raises the point that tax incentives meant to bolster retirement savings more often than not fail to help black and Latino workers, who on average have less money available to save for retirement.
“One of the big issues here is a gap in access,” Oakley tells The Washington Post. “We have what is essentially a voluntary retirement system and what we know is when we look at minority households, their access to retirement plans on the job is much less than that for whites.”
In another study examining how the current retirement system is failing America’s workers, Economic Policy Institute’s Monique Morrissey and Natalie Sabadish argue these gaps in retirement security make the case all the more strongly to bolster Social Security benefits, not cut them:
The trends exhibited in these figures paint a picture of increasingly inadequate savings and retirement income for successive cohorts and growing disparities by income, race, ethnicity, education and marital status. Even women, who by some measures appear to be narrowing gaps with men (in large part because men are faring worse than they did before) are ill-served by an inefficient retirement system that shifts risk onto workers, including the risk of outliving one’s retirement savings. The existence of a retirement system that does not work for most workers underscores the importance of preserving and strengthening Social Security, defending defined-benefit pensions for workers who have them and seeking solutions for those who do not.
A new report from the Center for Effective Government and the Institute for Policy Studies shows that two groups of corporate CEOs pushing for cuts to Social Security benefits, such as the “chained” CPI, personally have massive retirement plans. They also have allowed massive deficits to grow in their employees’ pension funds. While these CEOs—members of the Business Roundtable and the Fix the Debt Coalition—sit on retirement funds most people couldn’t even dream of, they have hurt their own employees’ retirement security and are looking to do the same for people who don’t even work for them.
According to the report, more than 25% of Fix the Debt members are also members of the Business Roundtable, including more than half of the Business Roundtable’s executive council. Fix the Debt is made up of more than 135 CEOs and tries to paint itself as very dedicated to serving the public, with the goal of protecting Social Security. The Business Roundtable, which includes more than 200 CEOs, doesn’t even pretend that it cares about public interest.
Members of the Business Roundtable, the report shows, have retirement accounts more than 1,200 times greater than the median retirement savings of U.S. workers near retirement age. When they retire, the $14.5 million fund they average will give them monthly retirement payments of nearly $90,000. The average monthly payment for everyone else is about $70.
While many of the Business Roundtable CEOs don’t even offer their employees pension plans, those who do aren’t exactly managing those funds well. The report found that 10 of the CEOs who do offer pensions plans have funds that run deficits between $4.9 billion and $22.6 billion. CEOs like those in the Business Roundtable and Fix the Debt are major players in the country’s growing retirement security crisis:
Over the past several decades, chief executives have slashed retirement benefits for their employees. Traditional defined-benefit corporate pensions covered 38% of private-sector workers in the early 1990s, compared with just 18% today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of companies providing traditional pension plans has dropped from just over 112,000 in 1985 to 22,697 in 2013.
Contrary to what The Washington Post and the billionaires who are trying to cut Social Security by pitting young people against seniors say, the nation does face a retirement crisis and Social Security doesn’t need to be cut. It must be—and can be—strengthened, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a powerful speech on the Senate floor Monday.
Just 18% of private-sector workers have traditional defined pension plans, and even with some employers providing 401(k) plans, she said that nearly half of workers lack access to those limited plans. More than 44 million workers have no retirement assistance from their employers.
With tens of millions of people more financially stressed as they approach retirement, with more and more people left out of the private retirement security system and with the economic security of our families unraveling, Social Security is rapidly becoming the only lifeline that millions of seniors have to keep their heads above water.
But instead of taking on the retirement crisis, instead of strengthening Social Security, Warren said, “some in Washington are actually fighting to cut benefits.”
So long as these problems continue to exist and so long as we are in the midst of a real and growing retirement crisis—a crisis that is shaking the foundations of what was once a vibrant and secure middle class—the absolute last thing we should be doing is talking about cutting back on Social Security. The absolute last thing we should do in 2013— at the very moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors—is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch.
Cutting Social Security would mean cutting benefits for the two-thirds of seniors who rely on it for the majority of their income, said Warren. It would also affect the 14 million whose Social Security benefits keep them out of poverty.
While those calling to cut Social Security hid their intentions behind the claim that their “chained” CPI proposal is just a more accurate way to calculate the cost-of-living increases for seniors, Warren said:
“Chained” CPI? It’s just a fancy way of saying cut benefits…[instead] with some modest adjustments, we can keep the system solvent for many more years—and could even increase benefits.
No retirement crisis? Tell that to the millions of Americans who are facing retirement without a pension. Tell that to the millions of Americans who have nothing to fall back on except Social Security. There is a $6.6 trillion gap between what Americans under 65 are currently saving and what they will need to maintain their current standard of living when they hit retirement. $6.6 trillion, and that assumes Social Security benefits aren’t cut. Make no mistake: There is a crisis.
She also said the call to cut Social Security “has an uglier side.” The Post editorial and groups pushing Social Security cuts, like billionaire Peter Peterson’s “Fix the Debt” organization, are trying to drive a wedge between younger people and seniors by framing the debate as a choice between “more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty.”
The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve.
Warren told the senators, “We don’t build a future for our children by cutting basic retirement benefits for their grandparents,” but instead:
We build a future for our kids by strengthening our economy, by investing in education and infrastructure and research, by rebuilding a strong and robust middle class in which every kid gets a chance and the most vulnerable have a strong safety net.
Next year, the millions of Social Security recipients will see the smallest cost-of-living adjustment ever—just 1.5% or about $19 a month. If the politicians—and their billionaire friends who don’t want to pay the same taxes workers do—who are pressing hard for the “chained” CPI benefit cut had their way, the adjustment would be even smaller than 2014’s historic low.
Edward F. Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans, says, “I hope this news about next year’s Social Security COLA will cause politicians in Washington to reconsider their support for the ‘chained’ CPI.”
How can anyone look at an increase of around 1.5% and think ‘That’s too big?’ Clearly, these politicians need to spend more time talking to seniors who are struggling. Next year’s increase will be 1.5%. Imagine if it were even less. Then imagine if that smaller increase were to be compounded over time. That is the ‘chained’ CPI.
The “chained” CPI proposal would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and prevent benefits from keeping up with inflation. At age 75, a senior’s benefits would be cut by about $650 per year (on average). At age 85, those benefits would be cut by about $1,150 per year, and at age 95, by about $1,600 per year. For more on what the “chained” CPI would do, go to the Alliance “chained” CPI fact sheet.
On the other hand, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) have introduced the Strengthening Social Security Act (S. 567 and H.R. 3118). The legislation would measure inflation not with the “chained” CPI, but with a more accurate measure of inflation for seniors (the CPI-E). It also would improve Social Security’s solvency by lifting the cap on earnings subject to the Social Security tax, so that all of America’s workers pay the same rate.
AFL-CIO Policy Director and Special Counsel Damon Silvers recently told Salon that the AFL-CIO opposes any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The labor movement is going to fight to the death to stop cuts to Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. Not ‘unreasonable cuts.’ Not ‘cuts without tax increases.’ Cuts period. We’re against all of them, we will fight them ferociously, and we will give no cover to any Democrat who supports them
But sometimes “cuts” hide in the form of other changes to earned benefits. Silvers gave the example of “Chained CPI,” which cuts Social Security by changing how benefits are calculated. “Chained CPI is the vampire of American politics,” Silvers told the Washington Post. “It keep being shot through the heart and it keeps reviving.”
Here’s another vampire idea that needs to die: raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67.
The argument typically goes like this: with modern medicine, people are living longer than they did when Medicare set the retirement age at 65, so why not raise the eligibility age to keep up with the times? After all, we need to save money!
This argument conveniently ignores what happens to the millions of 65 and 66 year olds who would no longer be able to access coverage through Medicare, which they have paid into throughout their entire lives.
Many of these seniors with low enough incomes will be pushed into Medicaid, shifting costs onto that other program. Some will have incomes high enough to be ineligible for Medicaid but low enough to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance on the health exchanges on the Affordable Care Act.
But many more seniors will lose coverage altogether, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, because while their incomes make them ineligible for Medicaid or subsidies, health insurance companies will consider them to be extremely expensive. “Because exchange plans could charge the oldest workers three times as much as the youngest, unsubsidized premiums could reach $10,000 to $12,000 (in 2014 terms) for 65- and 66-year-old individuals and twice that for couples.” Even if every state implemented ACA completely, that’s about 200,000 more uninsured seniors, according to Matt Stoller of the Roosevelt Institute.
So for increased pressure on Medicaid and more seniors unable to buy coverage at all, how much money do we save? The Congressional Budget Office has updated numbers on that front: the net savings would amount to less than $3 billion a year, a paltry sum in the context of the federal budget.
Thursday, the CBO said the overall savings wouldn’t amount to as much as it had previously estimated. Instead of saving the federal government about $113 billion over a decade, CBO now figures it’s more like $19 billion over eight years starting in 2016.
It will keep people working longer, and that means it will cost their employers—and everyone with private insurance—more in insurance premiums to cover this older, sicker population. The thing is, people still need health care when they’re 65. There isn’t a magic two years between 65 and 67 when everyone is healthy and doesn’t need to go to the doctor.
If we are serious about raising revenue and dealing with our fiscal health, we ought to stop looking at seniors – who have earned Social Security and Medicare by paying into it through a lifetime of paychecks – and start looking at the complex web of tax avoidance schemes of the very billionaires and large corporations that are pushing these cuts to begin with.
The nation’s economy added 148,000 new jobs in September, compared to 169,000 jobs created in August. The 7.2% jobless rate is slightly down from August’s 7.3%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
While today’s report reflects 42 straight months of job growth, the pace is weak, sluggish and just enough to absorb new entrants into the market and makes little dent in the jobs deficit.
Job creation is likely to slow even more after the 16-day House Republican government shutdown and their irresponsible vow to hold the raising of the nation’s debt ceiling hostage over Republicans’ demands to weaken the Affordable Care Act and for significant cuts in vital safety net programs.
With the shutdown over and budget talks set to get under way, working families are calling for the creation of jobs and raising hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our future by ending all tax subsidies for outsourcing; repeal of the job-killing sequester; rejection of any benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid and protection of food aid for the poor.
The number of long-term unemployed people (those who are jobless for 27 weeks or more) dropped slightly from 4.3 million to 4.1 million, accounting for 36.9% of the people without jobs. The number of long-term jobless people has dropped by 725,000 over the past 12 months.
Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.1%), adult women (6.2%) teenagers (21.4%), whites (6.3%), African Americans (12.9%) and Latinos (9%) showed little change in September.
The biggest job gains were in professional and business services (32,000), transportation and warehousing (23,000), construction (20,000), wholesale (15,000) and retail (9,000).
Employment in other major industries, including leisure and hospitality, health care, mining and logging, manufacturing, information and government, showed little change in September.
“Chained CPI is like the vampire of American politics,” Silvers said. “It keeps being shot through the heart and it keeps reviving. The reason it keeps coming back is because it has billionaires behind it.”
Naturally, the network’s anchors didn’t much like the sound of that. CNBC is one of Wall Street’s main TV mouthpieces, and it is in Wall Street’s interest that Social Security and Medicare are perceived as “entitlements” instead of the earned benefits of workers. After all, they want our politicians to balance the budget and “fix the debt” on our backs, not by raising taxes on their large incomes and investments.
The exchange Silvers had with CNBC anchor Simon Hobbs crystallized this clearly.
Damon Silvers: We’re being really clear. We’re not going to give cover to Democrats who think it’s a good idea to take away economic security from our most vulnerable citizens. We’re extremely clear about that and not embarrassed about it whatsoever. We want a really clear message out there. If you cut social security benefits or medicare benefits to our seniors, to our most vulnerable people in the country, you are going to get no support on it. It only treating them fairly there will be any progress going forward.
Simon Hobbs: Are you as clear on the reality that if you have don’t cut entitlement benefits this country may well go bankrupt?
Damon Silvers: That’s frankly not true. That’s a lie put forward by billionaires who don’t want to pay higher taxes. Social Security is the best funded aspect of our retirement system today and Medicare’s long-term issues are integrated with the long-term issues of our health care system. Neither program is overgenerous. In fact both programs are undergenerous. The only people who believe what you said are people not counting on those programs and who are worried their very large incomes will be taxed.