I hate to call out a front-page diary for misrepresenting anything, but whoever illustrated Joan McCarter's diary today with a picture of Social Security cards to show the "entitlements" Democrats are now beginning to dig in their heels to protect, well, used a bad example of what "entitlements" are, and so did the text of the diary. RFK Lives wrote an excellent diary on the fact that Social Security is an earned benefit August 12 that earned 309 recommends, but I guess that hasn't really filtered into everyone's consciousness here. So, once again unto the breach here.
This time, I went to the Social Security Act of 1935. Here's the preamble:
An act to provide for the general welfare by establishing a system of Federal old-age benefits, and by enabling the several States to make more adequate provision for aged persons, blind persons, dependent and crippled children, maternal and child welfare, public health, and the administration of their unemployment compensation laws; to establish a Social Security Board; to raise revenue; and for other purposes.This is what it's for, but note where it says "to raise revenue." In 1935, that was significant, because with all those people still unemployed, where would the revenue come from?
There's also some confusion when you look at the Act, because Title I of the Act actually seeds the Social Security system with an initial grant of $49,750,000 for the 1935-1936 fiscal year to help the states take care of their old people. Title II creates an Old-Age Reserve Account which will be administered by the Department of the Treasury, and stipends for the people who will be served by the account will be distributed to
SEC. 202. (a) Every qualified individual (as defined in section 210) shall be entitled to receive, with respect to the period beginning on the date he attains the age of sixty-five, or on January 1, 1942, whichever is the later, and ending on the date of his death, an old-age benefit (payable as nearly as practicable in equal monthly installments)What does Section 210 say?
c) The term qualified individual means any individual with respect to whom it appears to the satisfaction of the Board that-So in the original bill you couldn't receive Social Security if you hadn't paid wages.
(1) He is at least sixty-five years of age; and
(2) The total amount of wages paid to him, with respect to employment after December 31, 1936, and before he attained the age of sixty-five, was not less than $2,000; and
(3) Wages were paid to him, with respect to employment on some five days after December 31, 1936, and before he attained the age of sixty-five, each day being in a different calendar year.
How was this initial appropriation replenished? Here's Title IX of the bill.
SECTION 901. On and after January 1, 1936, every employer (as defined in section 907: The term employer does not include any person unless on each of some twenty days during the taxable year, each day being in a different calendar week, the total number of individuals who were in his employ for some portion of the day (whether or not at the same moment of time) was eight or more.) shall pay for each calendar year an excise tax, with respect to having individuals in his employ, equal to the following percentages of the total wages (as defined in section 907) payable by him (regardless of the time of payment) with respect to employment (as defined in section 907) during such calendar year:The employer pays into the system on behalf of each of his employees. It shows up on your paycheck as FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax. It's money you earn. You only get taxed on the first $106,800 of your income. It has been lower (I had two months a year without FICA tax being taken out of my salary for a couple of years).
(1) With respect to employment during the calendar year 1936 the rate shall be 1 per centum;
(2) With respect to employment during the calendar year 1937 the rate shall be 2 per centum;
(3) With respect to employment after December 31, 1937, the rate shall be 3 per centum.
A 1937 pamphlet issued by the Social Security Administration describes the process:
Old-age benefits [as opposed to old-age assistance] offer future provision for large groups of people who now are working and earning. Under the plan for old-age benefits, the majority of the Nation's wage earners can look forward to a definite old-age income of their own. Their old-age benefits will supplement any savings these workers have been able to make. They do not have to prove that they are needy. The benefits are theirs regardless of need.So a system funded by contributions you and your employer make to it while you're working that you earn after you retire isn't really an entitlement program, is it? It's not means tested, and you get back what you put in, with some interest, and the government can use the float on it. Think about the last five years and consider whether anything would be left in Social Security if it had been privatized.
If a worker dies before he has received his benefits, his estate receives a lump sum equal to 3 1/2 percent of his wages counted toward benefits.
In general, the Social Security Act helps to assure some income to people who cannot earn and to steady the income of millions of wage earners during their working years and their old age. In one way and another taxation is spread over large groups of people to carry the cost of giving some security to those who are unfortunate or incapacitated at any one time. The act is a foundation on which we have begun to build security as States and as a people, against the risks which families cannot meet one by one.
Let's not call Social Security an entitlement. It's an earned benefit. Can we PLEASE agree on this?
Let me clarify. This is like the drugs-meds thing (incidentally, THAT distinction is something I think is stupid). I think the only thing that gets Social Security off the table is a reframing like this, because of the other side's willful ignorance.