Can you fool all of the people all of the time? The politics of Social Security suggest not in 2005. Despite the Bush White House’s many calls of doom and gloom for the popular program, the fact that it is not broken now nor in danger of breaking soon is becoming stronger in the public mind, bombarded with the administration’s sales pitches to fix what is fine. Ordinary Americans are increasingly rejecting the GOP’s message, according to recent public opinion polls. But as a famous philosopher once said, it ain’t over until it’s over. Case in point is the White House targeting African Americans as a group who stand to benefit from changing Social Security from a program of social insurance to one of private investments in the stock market.
A NY Times article on March 20 details the GOP’s strategy to build blacks' support for fixing Social Security with private accounts. Presumably, this is the road to social equality where all folks have a chance to make it if they really try. Supposedly, such market opportunity is a natural way to expand American democracy.
GOP strategists say with a straight face that blacks are getting shortchanged by Social Security. A little truth is a dangerous thing here. Consider the case of black males. On average, they live six years less than white males. GOPsters see this as an opening to argue their case against Social Security. It is at fault, you see, by giving blacks retirement benefits for a shorter time period versus whites. Fixing the program with private accounts would reverse such inequity. Welcome to another solution from the stock market. Insanity, you say? No, just another example of the market mentality for the virus of social inequity. And it is a virus.
Why black males have shorter lifespans than whites cries out for discussion. And then sustained progressive action. After all, there are very real reasons why this social disparity exists in the world’s lone superpower. In brief, one group of males lives on average six year shorter than another group of males due to the lack of equity built into the national economy. By that I mean roughly how the American people earn their income to buy clothes, food, health care, shelter and transit.
Black males are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be jobless, the Labor Department regularly finds in its surveys of businesses and households. To be unemployed is to be more at-risk from death and disease. This is no secret. Crucially, the White House seeks to adapt its social policy to such inequity rather than eliminate it. Behold Bush’s vision of an “ownership society.”
The less employers hire black workers, the worse will be their lives. They will become throwaway folks. They will have less access to health care and other services available with income in a market economy. You need not be an economist to grasp this concept. It is a lived experience for millions of African Americans, and not an urban legend like the administration’s case for the looming bankruptcy of Social Security, financially sound through mid-century, say the system’s trustees and the Congressional Budget Office.
Social Security provides recipients of all skin colors with lifetime retirement income. Private accounts do not. When you run short of cash in your private account, that is the end of your retirement income. Period. By contrast, Social Security is a source of income for retirees for as long as they live. There is no end of the income line until you draw your last breath.
The GOP’s solution of establishing private accounts for African Americans who receive Social Security sidesteps why they actually collect it for a shorter period than whites. Blaming the program for shortchanging blacks is a little like defendants charged with killing their parents asking for judicial mercy as orphans. Chutzpah.
In the meantime, the stock market remains overvalued since its downturn five years ago. This is no rosy scenario for private accounts held by American workers of all hues in the future. One more thing is clear. The White House is not in a hurry to improve blacks’ life chances, nor preserve Social Security as we know it.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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