How should providers view Social Security? With great appreciation

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Milestones offer a good time to look back and think ahead. One notable anniversary took place last week, when the Social Security program turned 78.

People often disagree about how well this program has worked and whether it should be allowed to continue. But any provider who sees the program as anything less than a blessing sorely needs a class on recognizing gifts.

Clearly, the program has helped dramatically improve the quality of life that many of your residents have enjoyed. And by the way, it has also —  directly and indirectly —  put a lot of money into your organization's coffers.

That noted, plenty of people outside the provider community see the program as just this side of evil. Rand Paul and others have made a fair amount of political hay lately by pointing out its uncombed hairs. In their world, it should be privatized, if not canceled outright. Well, their views are certainly protected by the First Amendment. But as the adage goes, they can pick their opinions, not their facts.

Such as:

  • When Social Security was implemented during the Great Depression, the prevailing poverty rate among senior citizens was north of 50%.
  • More than 57 million Americans now benefit from the program.
  • It provides about two-thirds of the income that people over age 65 receive.
  • For more than a third of those same people, Social Security constitutes 90% or more of income. (By the way, the highest monthly amount is $2,533. The average monthly benefit for a retired worker is about $1,261.)
  • Without Social Security benefits, 44% of the elderly would be poor.

So just try to imagine how much more difficult it would be to fund long-term care if Social Security did not exist.

That is not to say Social Security's challenges should be overlooked. The program has a long-term funding challenge. As things now stand, it only has enough money to pay every retiree 100% of benefits through 2033. At least that's what the Social Security trustees claim. Without adjustments, retirees will get three quarters of benefits after that.

The available long-term remedies are fairly well established: raise taxes, cut benefits, or blend both. Those are not easy options. But they all trump dumping the program.

The end of Social Security would be a disaster for providers. And it would be a tragedy for the nation's seniors. Yes, it is far from perfect. But for many of our nation's seniors, life without Social Security would be far more difficult.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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