Social Security

Our Call to Care for Widows, Orphans, and our Parents

 

Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament repeatedly call on faithful people to care for widows and orphans, two special categories of marginalized people who lack an immediate family to care for them. The Ten Commandments also place upon all of us the obligation to honor our parents, to take care of our mothers and fathers when they are no longer able to care for themselves. These admonitions were critically important. Until the last century, those unable to care for themselves had few options. They relied on their family, if they had a family with resources to spare, or on the charity of others which may or may not have been available when it was needed. But today in the U.S., widows, orphans, and the elderly do not have to depend solely on family members or charity. During the 1930s, Social Security was established to care for people who could no longer work including disabled workers and their families, the families of deceased workers, and retirees. Today's workers pay Social Security taxes to support those who came before them and are no longer able to work.

This page provides a number of resources with information on Social Security including the 2005 General Synod resolution opposing privatization.

Background.  Social Security was created in 1935 to provide an income to those unable to work. It is not an investment program but social insurance that provides guaranteed retirement income, disability insurance, and income to the survivors of deceased workers. Today, some 159 million people (96% of the workforce) are covered by the program. Some 48 million people (about one in every six Americans) are currently receiving benefits. Nearly one-third of beneficiaries are disabled workers and their families and the families of deceased workers, while the rest are retirees and their families. 

Privatizing Social Security. Periodically there are efforts to privatize Social Security. Privatizing Social Security, that is, establishing private individual investment accounts within the system, would severely worsen Social Security’s financial health and replace Social Security’s current guarantee of retirement income with a risky system dependant on luck, investment wisdom, and the timing of the stock market. In 2005, the UCC's General Synod approved a resolution that "reject[ed] any attempts to privatize Social Security or to add private accounts to the current Social Security program, and support[ed] efforts to strengthen Social Security in ways consistent with its mission as a social insurance program."

Proposals to introduce private (individual) accounts into Social Security would not close the shortfall in funding that may begin in 35 years or so. Nor would workers necessarily get higher benefits under these plans. But privatization would require an additional $5 trillion in funding during just the first 20 years, money that would be obtained through higher taxes, cuts in other government programs, or an increase in the deficit. Women, people of color, and workers with relatively low earnings, more unemployment and disability, and more years out of the labor force are especially well served by Social Security and would be particularly harmed by a switch to private accounts. Attempts to privatize Social Security should be rejected. Only proposals to strengthen the program in ways consistent with its mission should be considered, such as raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax.

Additional Resources

In 2005, the UCC General Synod XXV passed a Resolution opposing the privatization of Social Security.

"Privatizing Social Security, Destabilizing the Future" appears on page 6 of 24 in the pdf file, Privatization: A Threat to the Common Good. This resource contains a series of articles accompanied by biblical reflections in which the staff of Justice and Witness Ministries explore the assumptions behind arguments to privatize water, social security, health care, public education, prisons, and the military. The resource concludes that "The best step toward a strong and enduring U.S. democracy is to preserve a public system that provides for all citizens, and especially those with the greatest need, while encouraging private development in areas where the profit motive can be expressed without leaving anyone behind."

Social Security: Caring for Each Other [609 KB] provides an indepth look at this vitally important program with a review of Social Security’s financial outlook, a description of how a social insurance program differs from an investment, and an examination of Bush’s proposal for private accounts. A theological reflection sees Social Security as one important way that modern society fulfills the biblical mandate to care for those unable to care for themselves. Includes discussion questions and a prayer.

Social Security: Let Us Love One Another is a two-page overview of Social Security and the issues it faces; includes discussion questions.

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid: The “Entitlement Problem”  (A workshop at General Synod XXVII, June 2009)
Social Security, Medicare (health insurance for seniors and disabled people), and Medicaid (health insurance for poor people) are often derided as hugely expensive entitlements that must be cut. However, workshop participants learned that the “entitlement problem” is primarily a health care problem involving the entire health care system. Costs of private health insurance are growing even faster than Medicare and Medicaid. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are much more affordable than the doomsayers would have us believe. Read the workshop handout for more information.

A Statement of Principles, signed by the UCC and 20 other faith bodies, list the religious principles that underlie Social Security.

 

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CONTACT INFO

Ms. Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
216-736-3709
raselle@ucc.org