We who collect Social Security benefits have never missed an opportunity to remind our lawmakers and other elected officials of the dreadful consequences at the polls if they displease us, because ours is a generation of voters. We have allowed our advocates and lobbyists in Washington to oppose any Social Security proposal that does not give us more.
Well, I think it's time for us, and our spokesmen, to get off that sacred-cow kick and start working for a reasonable reform of Social Security. But time is short. Experts predict that once the latest quick fix is passed into law, it will be no more than three years before we are in another crisis of Social Security deficits.
Ask us individually and most of us admit that we're uncomfortably aware that just because we've managed to survive beyond some mandatory retirement age we are not automatically entitled to a cost-of-living formula that provides income increases almost double the pay raises of our children and grandchildren who are working.
But we have allowed our spokesmen in Washington (Gray Panthers, Rep. Claude Pepper and others) to organize protests against any recommendation to place our COLA formula on a par with the cost-of- living increases of today's workers--for a possible savings to the trust funds of $60 billion to $65 billion by 1989.
The COLA arrangement for Social Security retirees provides that all benefit levels be increased each year when the Consumer Price Index rise exceeds 3 percent. When it does, the full CPI increase--not just the amount above 3 percent--is applied to benefit levels automatically. Result: in the period 1970-1981, pretax wages for workers went up 122 percent. Social Security benefits increased 205 percent.
And yet, over a period of years, we and our spokesman have terrorized Congress to the point where, rather than risk what they perceive as our wrath and that of Claude Pepper or the Gray Panthers, the reform commission chose to make no attempt to correct the COLA formula. This is not reform.
It should be of even more concern to old people that the reform commission decided to accelerate workers' Social Security payroll tax. Since Social Security is a part of my modest retirement income, I have a stake in the system's survival. Just the same, I see clearly that we face a backlash from today's taxpaying workers.
We beneficiaries will do well to remember that the fact-finders in the Social Security debate exploded the old myth that the Social Security tax you pay is somehow squirreled away to ease your own retirement years. Today's workers are aware that what they're paying in to Social Security is going to support retirees whom they see every day, and whom they perceive as living comfortably--often selfishly. These workers also heard President Carter when he told us that the 1978 round of payroll tax hikes would make Social Security safe into the next century.
Nobody has done more to raise America's consciousness of the valid needs of old people than Claude Pepper; the AARP and the Gray Panthers are among the most valued senior organizations. But their continued insistence upon our sacred cow status places old people in an unreasonable posture.
Our generation revels in the independence Social Security has provided. Many of us grew up in households where there was no warm welcome for grandparents who came to live with us when they had no other means of support. Even more than the nursing home, we dread the necessity of mov ing in with our children.
But rather than continuing to go along with pressure to give us more and more, we need to work for reform--a long-term, honest reform--of the Social Security system that is fair to everyone. We need to inform all those who speak for us that what we want is not special privilege because of our age but the opportunity to share responsibility for reform on an equal footing with everyone else.