Ethnic Experts Say Strengthen, Don’t Cut, Social Security

Politicians need to strengthen Social Security’s protections, especially for lower-income women, youth and ethnic elders and stop focusing on reducing Social Security already modest benefits to make up for projected shortfalls for the program decades from now, according to members of the Commission to Modernize Social Security during a national webinar held last week.

The commission, a group of national experts from groups representing Black, Asian, Latino and Native America communities, held the online panel in conjunction with the release of an updated edition of its 2011 report, Plan for a New Future: The Impact of Social Security Reform on People of Color.

“The point of Social Security is that people who work hard and contribute their labor and their lives while building the economy shouldn’t die in poverty for reasons outside their control,” stated Meizhu Lui, of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, which co-organized the study with the think-tank Global Policy Solutions.

“People have lost both wealth and jobs during the recession,” Lui noted, and now is not the time to reduced Social Security’s protections, such as by raising the full retirement age, said Lui, director emeritus of Insight’s Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Initiative.

Safety Net and the Presidential Campaign

The commission’s focus on vulnerable groups most dependent on Social Security came last week just as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared that he was not concerned with the very poor because they have a safety net, which, were he elected, he would repair if needed.

Media response to that and other Romney gaffes was sharp, such as the blog by Columbia Journalism Review blogger Trudy Lieberman. Her piece describes how Romney’s stated policies belie his pledge to Florida seniors to protect Social Security and Medicare.

Also last week, Politico blogger Glenn Thrush suggested that the Obama campaign may appeal to older Latino voters with ads vigorously supporting Social Security. Polls show that Hispanics of each political party strongly support the program, and both Romney and Newt Gingrich have pledged to support a budget-cutting plan floated by conservative coalition last year likely to result in cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

The Plan for a New Future report shows that Asians and Latinos turning 65 today live to 85 on average, live three-to-four years longer than other demographic groups. In addition, Hispanic elders are particularly prone to chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, and disability, so proposed reductions both by Democratic and GOP leaders in the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) would especially impact them.

Furthermore, says the report, because African Americans and Native Americans have lower life expectancies than other groups, Social Security’s early retirement option, allowing workers to retire at age 62—which some political figures have proposed raising, is especially important to them.

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