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9 Answers To Burning Questions About Social Security

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Since you began working for the man (your company), you’ve forked over a portion of every paycheck to the man (the government) in the form of Social Security Taxes. You haven’t had a choice in this matter.

Yes, a few semi-crackpots have told you that you can not pay these taxes if you disavow your SSN, but these types of people usually end up in standoffs with the government in remote locations.

So what exactly is Social Security Taxes? Who do they benefit? Why do you pay them? And where the heck did this policy come from?

You have burning questions and I have answers.

In this post, I am going to spell out the who, what, and why of Social Security. We’ll answer your burning questions in a way that doesn’t confuse you or bore you senseless.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

Question #1: Where Did Social Security Come From?

 

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Originally the bill was going to be called the “Economic Security Act,” but it was changed to the equally boring “Social Security Act” when it was being evaluated by Congress.

Those guys have never been known for their creativity or liveliness.

Ernest Ackerman received the first payment ever – a whopping 17 cents. Even back in 1935, this was not a particularly large sum. Presumably, he saved this money so he could purchase a single beer after he retired.

The program was already a rollicking success!

Question #2: What Is The Purpose Of Social Security?

Most people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. This makes sense given that you can’t collect it before age 65 without a penalty. But, it also provides some life insurance and disability protection as well.

Let’s say that, God forbid, you are in a terrible roller derby accident. It can happen to anyone.

If you didn’t survive your accident, your dependents would receive benefits from Social Security. If you were severely disabled, you would also receive some compensation through what you had already contributed. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an extensive study on the data and statistics on Social Security benefits, and I will be sharing them with you.

In 2016, approximately one-fifth of the 60 million people who received Social Security benefits were either disabled or dependents of deceased workers.

Now that you have this knowledge, you can go all out in your next roller derby tournament.

Question #3: Who Is Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

 

If you’ve worked for 10 years or more, you’re probably eligible. In order to receive the minimum income of $1,260 per quarter, you need to have 40 credits (or quarters) of coverage.

There are a few odd exceptions to this. Pastors have the option of choosing to not opt-in to Social Security. Federal employees hired before 1984 can’t participate and railroad workers usually get benefits through a different system.

As long as you don’t fall into one of those categories, you should be solid.

Question #3: What Determines How Much You Receive In Benefits?

The amount you end up receiving is based on the amount you earned over the course of your life. The more you earned and paid in taxes, the higher the amount (not percentage) you receive.

Let’s say you’re a high-flying CEO earning a cool six-figure salary. You will pay a percentage of your salary in Social Security taxes, up to a maximum taxable amount of $118,500. When you retire (or are pushed out by a younger, better looking executive), you will receive benefits based on your earnings and what you paid in taxes.

But here’s the thing: the higher your earnings, the lower percentage you earn in benefits. In other words, if you make 45 percent of the average wage, Social Security will replace about half of your income. If you earn more, Social Security will replace a lesser percentage. It’s a progressive benefit.

As you get older, your benefits will be adjusted based on the cost of living. This is to prevent you from sinking into poverty and being forced to panhandle for change.

If you start drawing benefits early, you will receive a reduced amount.

Question #4: Why Is Social Security Important?

 

When you see that chunk of change being removed from every paycheck, it can be tempting to think that Social Security is just a waste of your money. But it’s not.

First, it’s an almost guaranteed retirement plan. The Social Security Administration estimates that 97 percent of people aged 60 – 89 receive benefits or will receive them. This functions as a safety net for retirees.

Second, it’s available to all people, no matter how much they earned. Unlike some programs, where you get the shaft depending on your earnings, everyone has access to Social Security funds.

Social Security matters for the United States, especially as the Baby Boomer generation hits the retirement age. Without it, many people would be left high and dry with very little in their bank account.

Question #5: Can You Live Off Social Security Benefits After You Retire?

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t pay enough to let you purchase a Lamborghini or a house in the Hamptons. In fact, the benefits are actually smaller than many people realize.

In 2016, the average benefit was only about $16,000 per year. Unless you’ll be living in a shack and eating noodles, that’s probably not enough to survive.

And, to make things worse, the replacement rate for wages is falling. In 2016, Social Security replaced about 39 percent of past wages, but it’s going to fall to about 36 percent in the future.

That being said, Social Security will still replace a significant portion of most people’s income and shouldn’t be discounted.

Question #6: Is Social Security Important For People Other Than Retirees?

 

It sure is. It matters to a lot of children in the United States. In 2014, more than 6 million kids lived in homes that received some form of social security income. This includes dependents of retirees, deceased workers, and the disabled.

You may not like giving up money for Social Security but think about the kids. You care about kids, right? RIGHT?

Social Security is also very important for minorities. Why? Because they often have less opportunity to save money and earn pensions. For those 65 and older, Social Security is 90% of income for Asian Americans, 45% for African Americans, and 52% for Latinos.

Finally, Social Security is critically important for women. It’s common knowledge that women earn less than men, take more time out of the workforce, and live longer than men. This combination makes it critically important to women, especially those who survive their spouses. In fact, about 97% of survivor beneficiaries are women.

Question #7: What Would Happen To Retirees If They Didn’t Have Social Security?

Just how important is Social Security to the elderly? Without it, 40% of those 65 or older would be below the poverty line. That is a huge number of people and will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

With Social Security in place, only 10% of those retirees are below the poverty line.

Social Security is really important to a lot of people.

In fact, 61 percent of elderly people rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. For one-third of those people, it represents 90% or more of their income.

Removing Social Security would create a massive problem for those who are relying heavily on the benefits to keep them afloat.

Question #8: Will The Social Security System Continue As Is?

 

That’s a bit of a dicey question. The Social Security Board of Trustees has said that, unless things change, funds will begin declining and 2020 and become depleted in 2034. When they are depleted, benefits will be paid out a reduced rate.

That reduced rate will start at around 79% and decline to 73% by 2089.

Of course, it’s not likely that you’ll be alive in 2089 unless science finds a way to dramatically increase the human lifespan. However, your kids will be alive, so this does affect them.

Let’s hope they fix things before then.

Conclusion

Clearly, Social Security isn’t a perfect system. It doesn’t have a huge payout after retirement and that payout will probably be smaller in the future. But it does play an enormous role in our society. Without it, millions of people would be in poverty.

Additionally, it functions as a safety net of sorts, so that if something does happen to you, you’ll receive at least some income.

Should you plan on living off Social Security? Of course not. But you can count on receiving something after age 65, and that’s a huge benefit.

John Hawthorne is a health nut from Canada with a passion for travel and taking part in humanitarian efforts. His writing for https://nophysicaltermlife.com not only solves a creative need it has also lead to many new opportunities when traveling abroad.

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Immigration

Why Social Workers Should Care About DACA

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5th should be a call to action for social workers. DACA is a program for youth that arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States since June 15th, 2017.

DACA was enacted as an Executive Order under the Obama Administration to give these individuals who were brought illegally to the United States as children a chance to be a part of society. These young people are given the ability to apply for a driver’s license, to legally work in the United States, and increases educational opportunities. Most importantly it allows those individuals under the program to come out of the shadows.

DACA recipients are part of our country, and this is perhaps the only country they have ever really known. Many came to the United States as infants and have contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. A study from 2016 points to the economic benefits of the DACA program.

A reported 6% have started their own businesses and many business owners have reported wanting to hire more DACA recipients. Some are working as teachers. Many DACA recipients have reported increasing their civic participation as a result of the program and some DACA recipients even act as emergency responders. One recent example includes a DACA recipient in Texas who tragically died while rescuing those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

DACA has been challenged by the Attorney Generals of nine states, spearheaded by Texas. Tennessee, however, has dropped out of the lawsuit as a result of negative pushback. Several prominent Republicans have denounced the ending of DACA and House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Trump Administration to give Congress time to work on a legislative solution. Meanwhile, Attorney Generals in several other states are now suing to maintain the program.

As it stands, DACA recipients will lose the current benefits they have within six months and face possible deportation if a legislative solution is not reached. This will impact 800,000 individuals currently in the program. How does this impact social work? Social workers serve in many capacities in the social services and may likely encounter those who are under the DACA program, including the school system and in college settings.

Most importantly, as social justice is a core value of our profession it is evident that we must align with upholding this program. Social workers should be on the front lines to advocate for this population. Those who have been given the opportunity to show their potential under DACA have thrived. Even DACA, however, does not go far enough in that it creates no path for citizenship, which is why the Dream-Act is needed. Living under DACA gives its recipients many crucial benefits, but ultimately leaves them as second-class citizens.

What can we do now? We must continue to organize politically and let our opinions be known to our elected officials. As a professional organization, we should place pressure on our legislators. We must organize our local chapters and mobilize student social workers. We must continue to educate others. Finally, with so many domestic and international crises looming we must not lose our empathy or capacity for hope.

As former President Obama recently wrote in response to the DACA decision, “What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far.”

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Global

Grenfell Tower: Three Months On

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If you aren’t still angry about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, you probably haven’t been listening. For (perhaps international) readers who have not yet heard this story – the story of an inferno in a London tower block. The story of a hellish injustice, and it both starts and ends with inequality.

The fire at Grenfell broke out back in June 2017. The nation’s horror was bright, the smoke still choking our words, and the broken building breaking our hearts. And yet, in the wake of Grenfell’s black ashes, the nation’s indignation has been sparked by other tragedies. However, Grenfell has not been forgotten.

Allow us to go from the beginning.

The affluent borough of Kensington, West London, is known for hosting numerous high-end eateries and shops, alongside the famous Royal Albert Hall. On average a person will pay a cool £2m for a house here – which suits those who earn the area’s mean salary of nearly £123k, but perhaps not those who earn the median (which is about a quarter of that). Kensington and Chelsea reportedly the most unequal borough in the country.

Grenfell Tower is – was – a block of 129 flats. Within it lived young artists, working adults, older adults (some with dementia), people with disabilities, schoolchildren. It housed the whole colourful spectrum of life, from infancy through to retirement. Read about the residents. Learn their names; learn their stories. The Grenfell Action Group, established in 2010 to defend “the rights of the residents of Lancaster West Estate”, repeatedly warned that the building in which these people lived was unsafe.

The Grenfell Action Group did the best they could – created a community collective, campaigned, gathered evidence and shared stories. Nobody listened. The tower, built in the 1970s, received a “refurbishment” in 2014.  Cheap combustible cladding was used to cover the outside of the building – largely reported as a way to improve the appearance of the tower, for wealthier local residents. Their home was airbrushed with death.

Leaked documents suggest that the cladding was deliberately downgraded (from fireproof to combustible) to save £300,000, at a time when the council was actually in surplus of around £2.74 million. They had also recently given the rich (who payed full council tax) a £100 tax rebate in their “overachieving efficiency drive”.  The cladding material is banned in continental Europe and the United States – in late June, Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested it may even be banned in the UK.

The Grenfell Action Group tried, again and again, to bring fire risks to the attention of those with the power to spare their lives. That particular post ends with chilling prophecy: “ONE THING IS CERTAIN – THEY CAN’T SAY THEY HAVEN’T BEEN WARNED.“A fire risk assessment back from 2012 noted a range of out-of-date fire safety checks. The cladding was unsafe. Rubbish and waste blocked fire exits.  Reports to the government dating back to 2000 suggested that non-combustible external cladding should not be used on buildings. It’s all there.

The fire started in a flat on the 4th floor, apparently due to a malfunctioning refrigerator, around midnight on the 14th June. Approaching 1 AM, the first call to firefighers came in. Eventually, around 40 fire engines with around 200 firefighters were tackling the blaze. Despite their best efforts, it was not enough. Of course, the cladding was not responsible for the onset of the fire. However, it accelerated the blaze phenomenally. It wasn’t until 5pm the next day that firefighters reached the top floor.

However, it cannot be understated how much the power of the Grenfell community shone through – from offering shelter, food and taxi rides, to supporting grieving and traumatised individuals, to helping each other escape from the tower itself. Humanity was not lost from the side of the residents and locals. It wasn’t lost from the rest of the public. The Grenfell community was always there. It was never a blight. It was home.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, initially suggested it would take three weeks for survivors to be found a new “home”. Later, this was recast as a promise offers that everyone would have offers of housing. As of 1st August 2017, only 45 “offers of accommodation” were made, with 12 families being rehoused. Some survivors ended up searching for private accommodation such as one man because his wife couldn’t leave the hospital until they had a home to go to. Others are now currently “bidding” for council housing.

As of the end of August, Freedom of Information requests have suggested that £4.2 million was spent by the council on hotels for survivors. And that’s not the only money in questionable status. Around this time, over half of the funds raised by charities after the fire were “available” for distribution. However, just over two-fifths of the money raised by charities to support survivors of the fire has actually reached the intended recipients. There was over a £16 million shortfall as of early August, but there have been some improvements since then.

The Metropolitan police have confirmed that the Grenfell Tower “tragedy” amounts to corporate manslaughter. Note how the “tragedy” is referred to as an “incident” or “disaster”, because heaven forbid we actually mention the people who created this situation.

Sir Moore-Bick, Judge presiding over the inquiry into the fire has suggested that his work will not give survivors the justice they deserve. The scope of the inquiry is only allowed to ask questions about the fire, but not the context of how flammable cladding was purchased for prettiness).  Residents have not been consulted on the inquiry, and the  – despite promises from the Prime Minister that they would be. So what now? How do we help?

We have the charity football match Game4Grenfell, the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” charity single with various celebrities and other public characters offering their support, condolences, and sympathies. We have empathetic stories about the futures missed, the A-levels passed, the art displays. We also have first-person accounts bluntly calling out what amounts to a context social cleansing which created this tragedy.

“I want to urge everyone in the media with the power to do it to give the individuals who work with and for you the space to do something, anything, in the wider community we communicate with.” – Journalist John Snow

What you are reading, then, is an article trying to harness media power. Firstly, it’s an article trying to prevent Grenfell’s ashes fading away in the wake of other, more recent tragedies and governmental abuses. Secondly, it’s an article to say: charity intervention is still not going to change the underlying causes.

When we do our post-mortem, we can’t just think about the specifics of the blaze. We need to include the socio-cultural fuel: poverty, inequality, contempt for the poor, an ignorance of people’s lived experiences. For example, the Grenfell Action Group documented first-hand what was going on, yet their stories which still has fewer views that mainstream second-hand sources.

Do we live in a country where tax rebates are paid for in blood money? Do we live in a country where we unashamedly let empty, million-quid houses lounge comfortably next to our crowded, deathtrap towers? Do we live in a country which still has nearly 230 other high-rise buildings at risk due to cladding?

Are you angry now?

Follow Grenfell Media Watch online, write to your MP, keep tabs on what the people in power are doing. Keep asking where the charity money has gone. Stop demonsing the poor, and/or immigrants, and/or people on benefits. Accept that, through no fault of their own, whole swathes of our society need a bit of a leg-up. If you hear other people doing the demonising, call them out. Read people’s own stories, in their own words, and believe them. Amplify the voices of people who are perfectly able to speak for themselves.

Grenfell is cold, but our hearts aren’t. Let us show more solidarity and support than just our sympathy and disbelief. Let’s continue to stand alongside each other.

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Britain: We Need to Talk About the Benefits System

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Whether we want to admit it or not, the benefits system is hurting people. It’s killing people, and something has to be done.

Examples of how the benefits system can kill include incidences of people starving to death in their own homes to the 600 benefits-related suicides that have been reported so far (and this is a conservative estimate). The suicides and other deaths related to benefits have been reported again and again.  Reportedly, over 200,000 have been physically attacked as a result of claiming benefits, and, although it is not easy to unpick the reasons for this, approaching two and a half thousand people have died after being deemed ‘fit to work’.

A 2016 conference, Psychologists and the Benefits System: Time to Get Off the Fence was dedicated to just this topic. The British Psychological Society is also one of five official therapy/mental health organisations which have signed a statement opposing welfare sanctions due to the lack of evidence that they work, and the potential for harm.

After all, mental health has always been a social and political endeavor. If mental health professionals stay silent about our deadly benefits system, so deadly that the UK has been investigated by the United Nations for grave and systematic violations of human rights, are they not siding with the status quo?

A report from Cradle2Grave, a campaign against the abuse of human rights of people who rely on the state for financial help, highlight the shocking number of suicides which have been linked to welfare cuts.

In more than one case, it was the coroner themselves who suggested that the main cause of death was worry about benefits. A 2015 report from mental health charity MIND found that, as a result of the benefits system, job centre, and “help to work schemes”, around eight out of ten people:

  • Felt less able to work (76%)
  • Required more support from mental health services/GP as a result (86%)
  • Had worse self-esteem (83%)
  • Had worse confidence (82%)

And nearly a quarter of people were hospitalised or sectioned (i.e. legally detained) for mental health crises whilst on such schemes.

If this is the case, why is the rhetoric (and indeed, “commonsense”) view of people on benefits so at odds with reality?

One theory suggests that ordinary, compassionate people are able to stigmatise others because they feel that stigmatisation is justified (Crandall, 2003). British media has long been complicit in creating a culture whereby it is easy to stigmatise people on benefits, which creates fertile soil for this kind of thinking.

Stigmatising other people can be justified in two main ways. The first way is through the acceptance of a natural social hierarchy. The idea of a natural hierarchy is based on evolutionary theories, and is known as Social Darwinism – some people are intrinsically ‘workshy’, maybe worklessness runs in families (spoiler: it doesn’t), and so on. This image of the ‘benefits brood’ is designed to create a culture where an anti-welfare stance is the commonsense, rational way of seeing the world.

Secondly, stigma can be justified by suggesting someone is to blame for their own circumstances. This can include believing that the world is fundamentally just (i.e. people get what they deserve), and victim-blaming (poor people are lazy, make bad decisions and can’t plan properly, have too many children, spend frivolously, and are a burden on society). All of these stereotypes play out in empirical research into the matter.

Societal stigma can also lead to people who are on benefits repeating the same debunked myths about benefits, in order to distance themselves from the stereotype (i.e. “I’m a real/good/proper claimant”). This means that from all angles, this dangerous welfare narrative is being played out.

Better information and awareness may be one way to dispel these harmful stereotypes (necessary, perhaps, but unlikely to be sufficient). For example, people usually that ‘benefits’ means out-of-work, disability or child benefits. Newspaper stories reinforce this image. So do TV programmes such as On Benefits, Benefits Street, Benefits: The Millionaire Shoplifter, Skint, Dogs on the Dole, Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, Undercover Benefits Cheat, Myleene Klass: Single Mums on Benefits and Benefits: Too Fat to Work  (yes, they are all real programmes). As such, government welfare figures can be easily misconstrued and used to political advantage.

Contrary to the popular image, benefits as an umbrella term include fuel payments, cold weather payments, carer’s allowances, bereavement benefits, over-75 TV licenses, Income Support and more. Notably, the bulk of Income Support being towards lone parents and carers, and less than 10% of Income Support is made up of incapacity benefits. Benefits are mostly spent on pensions (approaching half of the welfare budget, at 42%), whereas unemployment benefits account for 1% of welfare expenditure.

There is an entrenched public understanding that the benefits system is riddled with fraud. The public believes that 24% of benefits claiming is done so fraudulently. Interestingly, ‘benefit fraud’ is only used as a term for people claiming benefits. When companies assessing fitness to work make fraudulent claims that someone is fit to work in one in five assessments, or three out of four assessments for people with mental health problems (these are researched facts), we do not call this ‘benefit fraud’.

So, given ‘fraud’ as a term applied solely to the individual claimant, data suggests that there is no widespread issue with fraud in the benefits system. According to the government’s own statistics, benefit fraud by claimants is 0.7% of total benefits expenditure (£1.2bn). The public belief that around a quarter of benefits claims are fraudulent is, therefore, a 3329% overestimation. Benefits-related administrative errors, to give some perspective, take up double the amount of money spent on claimant fraud. The figures for tax evasion and avoidance can also be used for comparison here: the cost of the ‘tax gap’ in the UK reaches £122bn per year (over 10,000% the cost of fraudulent benefits claims).

Another myth is that benefits are ‘too generous’. In 2013, a study from the University of Edinburgh found that there is no link between the wellbeing of people without paid employment and the amount of money they get in benefits. Additionally, it is not the first study to reach this finding (see Veenhoven, 2000). In fact, cultural factors such as perceptions of people on benefits (i.e. stigma) have a much bigger impact.

Rather than being ‘too generous’, for years now multiple organisations have been stating that benefits cuts are causing material harm, especially to the most vulnerable of society. This includes housing charity Shelter, disability charity SCOPE, domestic violence charity Women’s Aid, child abuse charity NSPCC, a whole host of mental health organisations, and anti-austerity organisations such as UK Uncut, Sisters Uncut, Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle, and Psychologists Against Austerity (now Psychologists for Social Change) to name but a few.

These ideas – the poor are deserving, benefits claimants are fraudulent and the whole system is a drain on society, the benefits system is too kind and generous, most of our welfare system is spent on people too lazy to work, have to to be quashed. People’s health and mental health is suffering. People’s lives are being destroyed. People are dying. People are killing themselves.

Is this the kind of world we can live in, with good conscience?

We do not have to accept things the way that they are. We can join or support the organisations mentioned above. We can join in talks, discussions, marches, and events (or publicise these events when we can’t go to them ourselves).

We can write to our MP’s, sign petitions, talk to our friends and family, support films such as the recent I, Daniel Blake, avoid reality TV demonising people on benefits, call out the false narratives when we hear them. We can be aware of the facts (and ideally, share the facts!) to reduce stigma. We can offer a helping hand, we can be aware of the impact of losing benefits and try to offer a listening ear to someone who feels like a drain on society. We can look after each other.

Perhaps is it is not just psychologists who need to ‘get off the fence’. We all do, for humanity’s sake.

References

Crandall, C. S. (2003). Ideology and lay theories of stigma: The justification of stigmatization. In Heatherton,T. F., Kleck, R. E., Hebl, M. R. & Hull, J. G. (eds.) The social psychology of stigma (pp. 126-150). New York,NY: Guildford Press.

 

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