By Leela Coleman
Whether he’s telling donors his true thoughts about working people or shaking hands with seniors on the campaign trail, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney doesn’t talk about how to strengthen Social Security. And trust me, I’ve been waiting to see if he would.
I walked in Mitt’s shoes for a day (ok I wore a Mitt mask) earlier this year to educate the public about the unfair Social Security tax cap that greatly affects every worker.
Workers only pay Social Security taxes on their first $110,100 of wages each year. Those who earn more than that don’t pay taxes on their additional income, nor do wealthy people whose primary income is from dividends and capital gains. The top 1 percent of Americans finish paying into Social Security by mid-March, if they pay at all. Romney’s tax returns show that most of his income is from investments, on which he pays zero Social Security tax while the overwhelming majority of us continue to pay a percentage of our paychecks into the fund all year long, year in and year out.
I would love to hear Mitt’s thoughts on this disparity, especially since he had a change of heart last week and now cares about the middle class. He hasn’t talked about this disparity on the campaign so in the meantime, I’ll let the 2012 Republican Party platform answer my questions.
Under the heading “security for those who need it,” the RNC’s retirement manifesto details how Republican leaders would focus on passing policies to privatize Social Security, study private pensions, and reform or eradicate public pensions.
All these suggestions ignore one simple fact: every American needs retirement security.
A growing number of American workers are at risk of elder poverty because they are unprepared for retirement, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. In 2010, nearly 6 million Americans age 65 and older were living in poverty or near poverty and that number is expected to rise 33 percent by 2020. The median retirement savings for families headed by a worker aged 55-64 in 2010 was just $58,000, enough to provide monthly annuity income of less than $300.
Instead of addressing this issue, Republican leaders are once again advocating for the Social Security privatization -- in other words, they want to take Social Security, the one guaranteed, fully portable, defined benefit pension plan all workers can rely on, and make it more like the 401(k) system, which has turned the average worker’s retirement plan into a crapshoot.
I felt this same type of disconnect in March when I tried to imagine what it would be like to own build an elevator for my cars or earn Mitt Romney’s salary.
For the “47 percent,” retirement requires figuring out how to live on less than $1,200 per month–what most low-wage workers receive from Social Security. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can improve Social Security’s benefits for current retirees and make the system solvent for future generations if lawmakers take a bold step and raise the cap on the Social Security payroll tax so that everyone pays their fair share, and we can use the added revenue to improve benefits for the most vulnerable beneficiaries.
Social Security was intended to help America keep its promise of retirement security after a life of hard work and playing by the rules. Raising the cap on the Social Security payroll tax would catch up our tax system with our economic reality.
It would help improve retirement security for private sector workers who have limited savings and no employer-sponsored plan at all.
With another presidential debate quickly approaching, I’m waiting to hear Mitt Romney talk about solving the retirement security crisis. But maybe his thoughts will remain buried in the pages of RNC’s platform in hopes that no one will read it.
Leela Coleman is a public health worker in Oregon and a member of SEIU Local 503, a union working to raise awareness of retirement security issues.