The plan received a hearing from the Trump administration, where it has been dismissed because it doesn’t seem, in the words of The Post, “likely to advance given the political stakes,” and faced “skepticism” from the president himself. But it should have never gotten that far.
It’s worth taking a moment to remind readers that, from the very beginning, the Trump administration has played a disingenuous game when it comes to Social Security. Trump campaigned for president as a champion of the program, someone who would ensure that retirement benefits would never suffer a single cut. But even before he became president, his aides assured anyone who would listen that he didn’t really mean it. Trump himself gave the game away this past winter, admitting in a CNBC interview that he was “going to look” at entitlement reform — that’s Washington insider code for cutting Social Security and Medicare — at the end of the year, after the presidential election.
Moreover, Ivanka Trump teamed up with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to promote a plan similar to the recently dismissed one back in 2018. Ivanka Trump’s paid family leave policy for childbirth or adoption would have been paid for by beneficiaries agreeing to delay when they could begin collecting Social Security.
These sorts of plans can sound harmless. If you’re 30 and unemployed, what’s an extra few months decades into the future? But in fact, many retirees claim Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, the earliest that they can — not because they lack the patience to wait a few years to receive a larger check, but because they can’t find work and they have no financial choice.
If anything, Americans are likely to be more dependent on Social Security going forward, not less. The 401(k) and defined contribution revolution, which was predicted to set off a savings boom, instead coincided with the opposite: a rapid increase in the amount of debt Americans acquired as the costs of health care, housing and education soared. Not only does almost no one set aside the recommended 10 to 15 percent of their salary each year for retirement, but the problem is increasing. Data analysis reveals younger baby boomers have less set aside for retirement than the older members of their generation. Generation X is thought to be in even worse shape. And all that was before the current economic cataclysm, which is taking another chunk out of people’s retirement finances.
There is one more potential issue. Defined contribution plans, and the more recent surge into index funds, are based on the uncertain premise that in the long run, the overall American stock market will increase in value. But over at the Financial Times, Rana Foroohar makes the point that if this crisis continues, that’s likely to be a chancier proposition going forward. And even that is a problem for the luckiest among us — a sizable minority of the population either doesn’t have access to or doesn’t participate in a workplace retirement plan at all.
For these people, Social Security is all they’ve got. Early use that needs to be paid back by delaying when someone can file for benefits is not just a risky idea. It also likely opens a door no future retiree should want opened — if you can impinge on Social Security benefits to help people combat one economic crisis, what’s to stop any future administration from doing it again, for some other reason?
Social Security is not meant to serve as an all-purpose, just-in-time government emergency fund. There are other, better ways to achieve that. As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said on Monday via Facebook, “I have a better idea: Give people coronavirus economic relief and don’t hold their hard-earned benefits hostage.”
Amen to that.