Cutting Social Security

Last week, in a speech delivered on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared his intention to cut Social Security benefits across the board. He has received praise and accolades from wealthy conservatives who believe that Social Security is a waste of money and that this program, which millions of retired Americans rely on, is an excellent candidate for cuts that will help get government spending under control. However, he has also received praise from many liberals for his plan, because the governor’s speech made it seem like the cuts would mostly apply to very high income retirees. However, Governor Christie has pulled the wool over our eyes.

As outlined in his speech, Governor Christie’s plan has two main components. The first is to counter the problems caused by rising life expectancy and the fact that Americans are living longer and longer as retirees by increasing the full retirement age from 66 to 69 and the early retirement age from 62 to 64. The second component is a means test that will reduce Social Security payments for retirees who are earning over $80,000 per year in non-Social Security income and entirely phase out Social Security payments for retirees who are earning over $200,000 per year. Governor Christie proposes that these changes begin in 2022, and only affect younger Americans – not current retirees or seniors approaching retirement.

Governor Christie has received so much praise because many Americans would agree that wealthy retirees who are already earning huge sums of money on their investments every year don’t need additional payments from the government. Putting aside the fact that Social Security isn’t welfare – it is a fund that all American workers pay into in order to fund their retirements and cancelling someone’s Social Security payments is no different than removing the money directly from their bank accounts – this emphasis on how Christie’s cuts would affect the rich distracts from the more important aspect of his proposed changes: the increase in retirement age.

On the surface, increasing the retirement age by 2-3 years does not seem like a big deal, especially as a solution to the problem that Americans are simply living longer than they did when Social Security was created. However the problem is that this change will have a hugely disproportionate effect on America’s working and middle classes. Despite the fact that retirees receive 25% less if they retire at the early retirement age of 62 than if they wait until the full retirement age of 66, nearly half of all Americans begin collecting Social Security payments as soon as they are eligible, at 62 years of age.

When there is such a large and obvious long term financial benefit to waiting just four years, this implies that the Americans claiming Social Security at 62 are doing so because of desperate financial need, and the statistics bear this out. The vast majority of Americans claiming early retirement are unemployed, or disabled, or working blue collar jobs. Americans who work on their feet and with their hands for decades have often worn their bodies out by the time their 60s roll around, and are no longer physically capable of working. In contrast, those who wait until they are over 66 to retire are vastly more likely to be wealthy and working jobs that are not physically demanding (such as politicians, attorneys, and political pundits). And in a cruel twist, the wealthy have seen the greatest increase in life expectancy, meaning that Christie’s plan is denying payments to struggling Americans while giving more years of payments to those who don’t need them.

Governor Christie’s plan is a cold-hearted scheme to rob hardworking Americans of the Social Security they have paid into for decades. It will leave millions of America’s senior citizens penniless when so many are already struggling to pay their bills and medical costs for seniors are skyrocketing. This is a cynical attempt to gain support at the expense of the most vulnerable of us. If you want to preserve Social Security for those who need it, we need leaders who actually care about our senior citizens. I urge you to cast your vote for me, Art Drew, for President in the 2016 Presidential Election.