Guidelines for Social Security Reform in the US (80586-C1-R230)
The Old and New Testaments share prophetic-messianic traditions in which God stands with the oppressed against a dehumanizing and destructive social order. The emphasis on the protection of those in deepest need was a theme of the events of Exodus. And Jesus, drawing on intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, inaugurated his ministry with a quotation from Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord . . . has anointed me to preach good news to the poor . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 4:18-19, RSV; cf. Isaiah 61:1-2). The early Christian church in Jerusalem, following this tradition, established a community in which all things were held in common. Special attention was given to those who were
the neediest-widows living on the economic margins of society including widows, the elderly, children and the disabled. Israel and the early church exemplified the role of the community of faith as they addressed concern for the welfare of the poor and establishment of a just social order.
It is the birthright of every child of God to live a life with dignity and access to the basic necessities of life. It is our responsibility as individuals, as churches and as expressed collectively through our government, to ensure that all God’s children are cared for through all stages of life.
In modern society, the establishment of retirement security programs has greatly reduced the number of individuals living in poverty in their older years. Retirement
security is often described as a three-legged stool composed of workplace retirement
plans, private savings and government sponsored income security programs, such as Social Security. In recent decades workplace retirement plans, particularly traditional pension plans, and private savings have weakened thus increasing the importance of programs such as Social Security. At the same time, however, Social Security is experiencing long-term financing challenges which have given rise to proposals that would fundamentally alter and weaken the program.
The United Methodist Church celebrates the success of the Social Security program and advocates changes that would preserve and strengthen the program for this and future generations.
The Social Security system in the United States, with its disability, survivors and retirement benefits, has historically functioned as a basic insurance program to provide income and medical expenses for those persons who are retired or disabled or are the survivors of deceased workers.
It has helped to hold families together by maintaining income in times of personal hardship and has relieved younger persons of the necessity of total care for aging parents. Social Security also allows older persons, most of whom are women, the independence and dignity of their own income by providing basic benefits. Since its enactment in 1935, The Social Security Act 's enactment in 1935, has been a cornerstone of the social policy of the United States and remains the most successful antipoverty program in U.S. history.
Principles of Reform
Because of the important role of Social Security, people of faith have a special interest in ensuring that it is operated fairly and securely
. and that Its benefits must continue to be designed to overcome disadvantages of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or disability and its benefit structure and financing are regularly reviewed to ensure that it is flexible enough to adjust to the changing needs of society. We affirm the following principles when discussing potential changes to the Social Security program:
Compassion: The program must embody our collective responsibility to care for one another.
Economic Security: Security for the elderly, survivors and persons with disabilities should not be left to fragile family support systems, charity or stock market cycles.
Equity, Fairness and Progressivity: The program must continue to provide universal coverage based on compulsory employee and employer contributions with costs and benefits distributed progressively in proportion to each person’s ability to pay and level of need.
Savings and Pensions: In addition to preserving Social Security, we advocate government actions which expand access and availability of employer pension plans as well as a higher level of personal savings.
Stewardship of Public Trust: Social Security has demonstrated the positive role that the government can play in advancing the common good. Future generations deserve nothing less.
In the United States, Social Security is a woman's issue. In addition to these broad principles for reform, The United Methodist Church recognizes that Social Security is an issue of particular and critical importance to women. Since its inception, Social Security has often been the only income source keeping women from living in poverty. Today, while women's lives have changed, women are still over-represented in the lowest wage jobs and earn only 74 77 percent of what men earn. Women leave the labor force for an average of 15 percent of their working careers, primarily to fulfill responsibilities as caregivers to their children, spouses, or elderly family members. In addition, women live an average of seven years longer than their male counterparts. In recent years, advisory commissions have issued proposals that Current proposals begun by the fractious report of the Advisory Council on Social Security have caused turmoil in the debate over the future of Social Security in the United States. Especially pernicious were the proposals to divert portions of workers' current payments from the Social Security system into individually held private accounts. , which would
significantly damage women's retirement income. The returns on individual accounts
would be dependent on the risks of volatile investment markets and would not be guaranteed to keep pace with inflation nor provide spousal benefits, widow's benefits, or benefits for divorced spouses—all of which are special features of the current Social Security system. Since Social Security provides the core of women's retirement income, without the guarantees of a shared insurance pool, cost-of-living increases, and spousal and lifetime benefits, many women could easily outlive their assets. The United Methodist Church has always affirmed that reaffirms Social Security's central role in family income protection. must not be compromised. We believe that all proposals to address the future solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund must be viewed through the eyes of beneficiaries – particularly the most vulnerable recipients – and with the goal of addressing remaining inadequacies in the current system affecting women. women who are the majority of Social Security recipients. Remaining inadequacies for women in the current system also must be addressed. If we strengthen the Social Security system so that it works well for women, we will have a system that works well for all persons in the United States.
To truly strengthen the Social Security system, we believe any reform effort must:
Therefore, we affirm that the following principles on Social Security in the United States must guide our work on this critical issue: Continue to Help Those With Lower Lifetime Earnings, Who Are Disproportionately Women
Social Security's benefit formula is structured so that the lowest-paid workers receive benefits that replace a higher proportion of their preretirement earnings than higher-wage workers. Many of the lowest-paid workers also have no pensions from their jobs. Any reform must retain this feature benefiting lower-paid workers. Maintain Full Cost of Living Adjustments Social Security's annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which is indexed to inflation, is a crucial protection against the erosion of benefits. Because women, on average, live longer than men and rely more on Social Security, and also often lack other sources of retirement income, this provision is particularly important to women. Even when employment-based pension income is available, it is rarely inflation-protected. Protect and Strengthen Benefits for Wives, Widows, and Divorced Women Social Security's family protection provisions help women the most. Social Security provides guaranteed, inflation-protected, life-time benefits for the wives of retired workers, widows, and divorced women, many of whom did not work enough at high enough wages to earn adequate benefits on their own accounts. Preserve Disability and Survivor Benefits Social Security provides benefits to three million children (Social Security Administration, 1998) and the remaining caretaking parent in the event of the premature death or disability of either working parent. Spouses of disabled workers and the widows (or widowers) of workers who died prematurely also receive guaranteed lifetime retirement benefits. Two out of five of today's 20-year-olds will face premature death or disability before reaching retirement age.
Protect the Most Disadvantaged Workers from "Across-the-Board" Benefits Cuts
Some proposed "across-the-board" benefit cuts such as raising the retirement age or the numbers of years of work history used in calculating benefits would disproportionately hurt those with the most physically demanding or stressful jobs who cannot work more years, as well as those who have low lifetime earnings, including many women, minorities, temporary, seasonal and part-time workers, agricultural workers, and the chronically under and unemployed. These workers are also unlikely to have other employer-provided retirement benefits. Ensure That Women's Guaranteed Benefits Are Not Reduced by Individual Account Plans That Are Subject to the Uncertainties of the Stock Market Proposals to divert worker's current payments from the Social Security system into individually held, private accounts, whose returns would be dependent on volatile investment markets and would not be guaranteed to keep pace with inflation nor provide spousal benefits, would reduce the retirement income of many women. Without the guarantees of a shared insurance pool, cost-of-living increases, and spousal and lifetime benefits, many women could easily outlive their assets. Address the Care-Giving and Labor Force Experiences of Women The Social Security system is based on marriage and work patterns that have changed. Currently, the benefit formula, which generally helps those with low lifetime earning, also favors those with 35 years of labor force participation, years which many women lack because of family care-giving. Moreover, the effects of sex-based wage discrimination during their working years are not fully offset by the more generous
treatment low earners receive. Such issues as divorce, taking time out of the workforce for care-giving, the differences in current benefits between one and two-earner couples, and the inadequacies in benefits for surviving spouses must be considered at the same time that solutions to strengthening the financial soundness of the system are being sought. Further Reduce the Number of Elderly Women Living in Poverty Social Security has helped reduce poverty rates for the elderly, from 35 percent in 1959 to less than 11 percent in 1996. In 1995, the poverty rate for all women over the age of 65 was 13.6 percent while the poverty rate among women age 65 or older who lived alone was 23.6 percent. Without Social Security, the poverty rate for women over 65 would have been an astonishing 52.9 percent. Nevertheless, unmarried women still suffer disproportionately; single, divorced, and widowed women age 65 or older have a poverty rate of 22 percent, compared with 15 percent for unmarried men and 5 percent for women and men in married couples. The United Methodist Church, in its Social Principles, urges social policies and programs that ensure to the aging the respect and dignity that is their right as senior members of society; affirms the need to support those in distress; and calls for the equal treatment of men and women in every aspect of their common life. Therefore, be it resolved:
1. that the 2000 General Conference support the above principles recognizing Social Security's central role in family income protection and in the special needs of women;
2. that the secretary of the General Conference shall communicate this support to the appropriate officials in the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government;
3. that the General Boards of Church and Society and Global Ministries shall continue to research and document Social Security issues, advocating on behalf of these principles; and
4. that The United Methodist Church shall continue to educate its constituents so that churches and individual United Methodists can encourage their legislators to support a strong Social Security system in the U.S. throughout the 21st Century.
Action: The United Methodist Church supports the above principles and guidelines for reform and directs The General Board of Church and Society to distribute these principles to policymakers and to advocate on their behalf. Furthermore, The United Methodist Church shall continue to educate its constituents about the importance of preserving a strong social insurance program for future generations with particular attention paid to the needs of women and vulnerable populations.
ADOPTED 1984, REVISED AND READOPTED 2000 See Social Principles, ¶ 163D and E.