Social Security Forum
Senior Citizen Center - Bangor, Maine
February 22, 2005
Panel consisted of 1st District Congressman Tom Allen, 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud, Maine AFL-CIO President Ed Gorham, AARP's Sean Lewin, and Disability Rights Movement executive director Kim Moody.
Thank you all for holding this very important forum.
As I've been listening to the remarks from the panel, old familiar sayings kept popping into my head.
Like, "Government of, by and for the people."
I thought of that phrase when someone up here commented on the Republican push for "less government."
Whenever someone tells you they want "less government," consider this -- they are telling you they want less government of, by and for the people.
Then there was the comment, someone up here quoting some Republican saying they want to kill Social Security because it is part of the Welfare State.
The phrase that came to my mind, and I know you've heard it many times before, is the phrase, "Provide for the Common Defense, and Promote the General Welfare."
Remember that phrase. Promote the General Welfare. Anyone trying to "kill the welfare state" in this country is trying to kill one of the very basic founding principles of this great nation.
Now, onto the issue at hand. I agree with this panel that Social Security is not in crisis. And I agree with the idea of raising the cap on the wages that now pay into Social Security to help balance the books decades into the future.
But I want to add another idea for how we can get more money into the Social Security Trust Fund.
That is by increasing the minimum wage.
If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, according to information I saw just last week, it would be in the neighborhood of $8.20 an hour. It is now $5.15 an hour. Even at $8.20 an hour, according to this report I saw, people earning that wage would be able to afford to rent a typical one-bedroom apartment in only four of this country's 3900 counties. The figure for a living wage, as opposed to a minimum wage, is now closer to $13 an hour.
If we increase the minimum wage to somewhere between $8.20 and $13 an hour, three things immediately happen.
First, we would get more funds into the Social Security Trust Fund.
Second, we would have an immediate reduction in the government payout under the Earned Income Tax Credit by virtue of these lower-wage people suddenly making too much money to qualify for those poverty-prevention funds.
And third, because they would have more money in their pockets, these workers might be able to use some of their "raise" to start one of those "private investment accounts" the President wants so badly.
I agree that people should have private retirement accounts. We as a nation have an abysmal savings rate. Savings accounts and retirement accounts need to be encouraged. But we should not decimate the Social Security system to do it. We already have government-sponsored programs - 40lKs, IRAs, for instance. We should be encouraging people to take advantage of those programs so they will have more than Social Security to fall back on when they retire.
And other than tweaking the pay-in amounts to guarantee solvency, we should leave Social Security alone.