Social Security has long been called the third rail of American politics—an unassailable institution for which we can thank Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Or can we?
Abraham Epstein was a major figure in American social reform during the first half of the twentieth century. His name and his theories appear in almost every book written on Social Security and the New Deal, but a full account of his life has never been made. Epstein’s son, Pierre, now secures his legacy in this book that tells for the first time the story of his father’s role in the conception and enactment of Social Security and sheds new light on the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration.
Combining memoir and intellectual history, Pierre Epstein takes readers behind the scenes of New Deal legislation to tell how his father’s fast-moving career led him to become the real architect of Social Security—he even came up with those two words to explain his theories. A prolific journalist, founder of the American Association for Social Security, and author of numerous books, including Insecurity: A Challenge to America, Abe Epstein fought desperately with FDR to remedy the failings of the original Social Security Act—only to be cast aside by political machinations. Nonetheless, the exclusion did not stop him from making significant contributions to the 1939 amendments that solidified Social Security for coming generations of Americans.
In this book readers will meet a colorful and tenacious player in the history of this critical piece of social insurance legislation—an obsessed reformer who mobilized support from the bottom up for his vision of Social Security. They will also meet his family and learn of the struggles and frustrations Abe Epstein faced in making his way in America as an immigrant Russian Jew.
This engaging book fills a major gap in the historical record, showing that Social Security is more than a technical subject about finance and actuarial statistics, that it is primarily a human idea with deep philosophical roots. In the face of today’s privatization controversy, Abraham Epstein’s theories have much to tell us about the current debate while Pierre Epstein’s insightful narrative shows us the underlying importance of one man’s indelible legacy.
Social security reform in the United States continues to be a pressing and contentious issue, with advocates touting some form of a centralized or a privatized system of personal accounts. In general, centralized systems offer low administrative costs, but are potentially subject to political mismanagement and appropriation. Privatized account systems, on the other hand, offer higher yields with more flexibility, but may prove too expensive and logistically daunting to implement. Uniting learned and outspoken proponents on both sides of the debate, this volume provides the first comprehensive analysis of the issues involved in administering a system of essentially private social security accounts. The contributors together come to startlingly similar conclusions, generally agreeing that a centralized system of accounts could deliver the benefits of privatization in a feasible and cost-efficient way by accessing administrative mechanisms already in existence. This is perhaps the most far-reaching synthesis yet envisioned of functional and implementable social security reform.
In 1990, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, the foremost authority on social security in Latin America, concluded that all of the region's programs were imperiled, especially those in the most advanced nations. His study of twenty countries, originally sponsored by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, critically reviews major financial problems, low and uneven population coverage, erosion in benefits, increasing costs, and the impact of social security on development.
In words that eerily echo current U.S. debates, Mesa-Lago analyzes virtually all social insurance programs: old age, disability and survivors' pensions; health care; occupational hazards; family allowances; and unemployment. For social security specialists, this impressive study will serve as a comprehensive regional handbook on the legal, administrative, and financial features of Latin America's programs. Students of comparative policy and applied economics will find Mesa-Lago's methodology, analytical framework, and policy recommendations invaluable.
In the United States, rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth are climbing so dramatically that over half of the next generation is likely to spend part of its childhood in single-mother families. As many as half of these families will live in poverty, caused in large measure by the failure of current government regulations to secure adequate child support from absent parents and to assure minimum support when parents cannot provide it. Assuring Child Support introduces the Child Support Assurance System, a remedy to this problem that is both feasible and affordable, a practical reform that is within the nation's grasp. "An extremely well-written and provocative book." —Eastern Economic Journal
Social security is the largest and perhaps the most popular program run by the federal government. Given the projected increase in both individual life expectancy and sheer number of retirees, however, the current system faces an eventual overload. Alternative proposals have emerged, ranging from reductions in future benefits to a rise in taxrevenue to various forms of investment-based personal retirement accounts.
As this volume suggests, the distributional consequences of these proposals are substantially different and may disproportionately affect those groups who depend on social security to avoid poverty in old age. Together, these studies persuasively show that appropriately designed investment-based social security reforms can effectively reduce the long-term burden of an aging society on future taxpayers, increase the expected future income of retirees, and mitigate poverty rates among the elderly.
Rising journalist and fellow millennial Andrew Stiles is all too familiar with the financial realities of his generation—inescapable student debt, insufficient jobs, and the sort of apathetic response to the inevitable Social Security drainage that will leave them empty-handed in old age. But rather than resigning or whining, Stiles employs both humor and research to illustrate what is turning out to be a “bleakenomic” future for millennials.
Some of his key findings include:
U.S. debt is approaching 100 percent of GDP, the highest level since World War II.
By 2050, debt is on track to reach an unprecedented 145 percent of GDP. Under one pessimistic (but probably more realistic) scenario, CBO estimates that debt could rise to 244 percent of GDP, which means lights out.
By 2050, federal spending is projected to exceed 29 percent of GDP, levels not seen since the height of World War II. We’re on track to spending more money on baby boomers in retirement than we did to defeat the Nazis.
Since 1984, the median net worth for households headed by someone under the age of 35 has declined 68 percent. For retirement age households, net worth has increased 42 percent over that same period. The result is the largest generational wealth gap in history. Boomers did better than their kids in early adulthood, and will do better than their kids in retirement.
As millennials remain childless and single for longer, they face one of the highest tax rates (16.9 percent) for their demographic in the developed world.
The millennial reality is harsh, but Stiles does not wallow in it. Rather, he uses the data as a slap in the face to shame boomers and wake up millennials to save, vote, and work for change in a system that can’t continue.
In Invoking the Invisible Hand Robert Asen scrutinizes contemporary debates over proposals to privatize Social Security. Asen argues that a rights-based rhetoric employed by Social Security's original supporters enabled advocates of privatization to align their proposals with the widely held belief that Social Security functions simply as a return on a worker's contributions and that it is not, in fact, a social insurance program.
By analyzing major debates over a preeminent American institution, Asen reveals the ways in which language is deployed to identify problems for public policy, craft policy solutions, and promote policies to the populace. He shows how debate participants seek to create favorable contexts for their preferred policies and how they connect these policies to idealized images of the nation.
The Social Security Act of 1935 must be counted among the most monumental pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress. Today, sixty-five years after its enactment, public support for Social Security remains extremely strong. At the same time, there have been reports that Social Security is in grave danger of financial collapse, and numerous groups across the political spectrum have agitated for its reform. The president has put forward proposals to rescue Social Security, conservatives argue for its privatization, and liberals advocate increases in its funding from surplus tax revenues.
But what is the average person to make of all this? How many Americans know where the money for Social Security benefits really comes from, or who wins and loses from the system's overall operations? Few people understand the current Social Security system in even its broadest outlines. And yet Social Security reform is ranked among the most important social issues of our time.
With Making Sense of Social Security Reform, Daniel Shaviro makes an important contribution to the public understanding of the issues involved in reforming Social Security. His book clearly and straightforwardly describes the current system and the pressures that have been brought to bear upon it, before dissecting and evaluating the various reform proposals. Accessible to anyone who has an interest in the issue, Shaviro's new work is unique in offering a balanced, nonpartisan account.
A New Deal for Old Age
Anne L. Alstott Harvard University Press, 2016 Library of Congress HQ1063.2.U6A436 2016 | Dewey Decimal 306.380973
Changes in longevity, marriage, and the workplace have undermined Social Security, making the experience of old age increasingly unequal. Anne Alstott’s pragmatic, progressive revision would permit all Americans to retire between 62 and 76 but would provide generous early retirement benefits for workers with low wages or physically demanding jobs.
The rancorous debate over the future of Social Security reached a fever pitch in 2005 when President Bush unsuccessfully proposed a plan for private retirement accounts. Although efforts to reform Social Security seem to have reached an impasse, the long-term problem—the projected Social Security deficit—remains. In Pension Puzzles, sociologists Melissa Hardy and Lawrence Hazelrigg explain for a general audience the fiscal challenges facing Social Security and explore the larger political context of the Social Security debate. Pension Puzzles cuts through the sloganeering of politicians in both parties, presenting Social Security's technical problems evenhandedly and showing how the Social Security debate is one piece of a larger political struggle. Hardy and Hazelrigg strip away the ideological baggage to explicate the basic terms and concepts needed to understand the predicament of Social Security. They compare the cases for privatizing Social Security and for preserving the program in its current form with adjustments to taxes and benefits, and they examine the different economic projections assumed by proponents of each approach. In pursuit of its privatization agenda, Hardy and Hazelrigg argue, the Bush administration has misled the public on an issue that was already widely misunderstood. The authors show how privatization proponents have relied on dubious assumptions about future rates of return to stock market investments and about the average citizen's ability to make informed investment decisions. In addition, the administration has painted the real but manageable shortfalls in Social Security revenue as a fiscal crisis. Projections of Social Security revenues and benefits by the Social Security Administration have treated revenues as fixed, when in fact they are determined by choices made by Congress. Ultimately, as Hardy and Hazelrigg point out, the clash over Social Security is about more than technical fiscal issues: it is part of the larger culture wars and the ideological struggle over what kind of social responsibilities and rights American citizens should have. This rancorous partisan wrangling, the alarmist talk about a "crisis" in Social Security, and the outright deception employed in this debate have all undermined the trust between citizens and government that is needed to restore the solvency of Social Security for future generations of retirees. Drawing together economic analyses, public opinion data, and historical narratives, Pension Puzzles is a lucid and engaging guide to the major proposals for Social Security reform. It is also an insightful exploration of what that debate reveals about American political culture in the twenty-first century. A Volume in the American Sociological Association's Rose Series in Sociology
Brazil has one of the most elaborate social security systems in Latin America. This study follows the progressive evolution of social insurance policy from 1889 to 1979, through four alternating periods of democratic and authoritarian governments: oligarchic democracy, organic authoritarianism, populist democracy, and bureaucratic authoritarianism.
Privatizing Social Security
Edited by Martin Feldstein University of Chicago Press, 1998 Library of Congress HD7105.4.P75 1998 | Dewey Decimal 332.67254
This volume represents the most important work to date on one of the pressing policy issues of the moment: the privatization of social security. Although social security is facing enormous fiscal pressure in the face of an aging population, there has been relatively little published on the fundamentals of essential reform through privatization. Privatizing Social Security fills this void by studying the methods and problems involved in shifting from the current system to one based on mandatory saving in individual accounts.
"Timely and important. . . . [Privatizing Social Security] presents a forceful case for a radical shift from the existing unfunded, pay-as-you-go single national program to a mandatory funded program with individual savings accounts. . . . An extensive analysis of how a privatized plan would work in the United States is supplemented with the experiences of five other countries that have privatized plans." —Library Journal
"[A] high-powered collection of essays by top experts in the field."—Timothy Taylor, Public Interest
Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov argue for a new way to measure individual and population aging. Instead of counting how many years we’ve lived, we should think about our “prospective age”—the number of years we expect to have left. Their pioneering model can generate better demographic estimates, which inform better policy choices.
Those concerned with investigating the political functions of the family far too often identify only one: the production of “good democratic citizens.” As a result, public discussion of family law and policy has been confined to a narrow continuum that ignores the family's other, often subversive, political functions.
In The Public Family David Herring's goal is to create a new rhetoric that moves beyond the stalemate that often results from the war between advocates of parental rights and those of children's rights. This “rhetoric of associational respect” allows him to constructively address the role of rights and the limits of individualism in political and legal theory.
While acknowledging the family's importance in facilitating state functioning and power in a large, pluralistic democracy (the aforementioned production of good citizens), Herring fully explores the ways in which the family produces diversity and promotes tolerance. Unlike other works on the subject, which view the differences between individuals as constituting the central challenge for American society, Herring focuses on the importance of such differences. In doing so, he enriches and enlivens the often divisive public discussion of family law and policy.
In this new volume, Michael A. Pagano curates essays focusing on the neighborhood's role in urban policy solutions. The papers emerged from dynamic discussions among policymakers, researchers, public intellectuals, and citizens at the 2014 UIC Urban Forum. As the writers show, the greater the city, the more important its neighborhoods and their distinctions. The topics focus on sustainable capital and societal investments in people and firms at the neighborhood level. Proposed solutions cover a range of possibilities for enhancing the quality of life for individuals, households, and neighborhoods. These include everything from microenterprises to factories; from social spaces for collective and social action to private facilities; affordable housing and safety to gated communities; and from neighborhood public education to cooperative, charter, and private schools. Contributors: Andy Clarno, Teresa Córdova, Nilda Flores-González, Pedro A. Noguera, Alice O'Connor, Mary Pattillo, Janet Smith, Nik Theodore, Elizabeth S. Todd-Breland, Stephanie Truchan, and Rachel Weber.
Our current social security system operates on a pay-as-you-go basis; benefits are paid almost entirely out of current revenues. As the ratio of retirees to taxpayers increases, concern about the high costs of providing benefits in a pay-as-you-go system has led economists to explore other options. One involves "prefunding," in which a person's withholdings are invested in financial instruments, such as stocks and bonds, the eventual returns from which would fund his or her retirement. The risks such a system would introduce—such as the volatility in the market prices of investment assets—are the focus of this offering from the NBER. Exploring the issues involved in measuring risk and developing models to reflect the risks of various investment-based systems, economists evaluate the magnitude of the risks that both retirees and taxpayers would assume. The insights that emerge show that the risk is actually moderate relative to the improved return, as well as being balanced by the ability of an investment-based system to adapt to differences in individual preferences and conditions.
Beginning with the stock market crash of 1929, Blanche Coll documents the evolution of the federal and state government policymaking for welfare and Social Security, our "safety net." As Coll points out, the policies that determine who is "entitled" to aid, how standard dollar amounts are set, child support responsibilities, the equitable fiscal division between state, federal, and local governments, and the resulting impact on the poorÐÐparticularly women and children of all racesÐÐhave fluctuated throughout the history of welfare.
Coll shows how demographic patterns, the definition of a family, the relative health of the economy, and Presidents' political agendas all deeply affect the system of entitlements to Social Security and welfare, the kernal of the American welfare state.
Safety Net is the only comprehensive history of modern welfare in the United States. Clearly written and unpolemical, it is based on a wealth of primary sources, interviews with key policymakers, and the authoritative analysis of a trained historian who served as a research administrator in the federal government through Democractic and Republican administrations. Saftey Net will be indispensable reading for everyone concerned with contemporary debates about welfare and Social Security.
Many of us suspect that Social Security faces eventual bankruptcy. But the government projects its future finances using long outdated methods. Employing a more up-to-date approach, Jagadeesh Gokhale here argues that the program faces insolvency far sooner than previously thought.
To assess Social Security’s fate more accurately under current and alternative policies, Gokhale constructs a detailed simulation of the forces shaping American demographics and the economy to project their future evolution. He then uses this simulation to analyze six prominent Social Security reform packages—two liberal, two centrist, and two conservative—to demonstrate how far they would restore the program’s financial health and which population groups would be helped or hurt in the process.
Arguments over Social Security have raged for decades, but they have taken place in a relative informational vacuum; Social Security provides the necessary bedrock of analysis that will prove vital for anyone with a stake in this important debate.
What accounts for the striking decline in labor force participation at increasingly younger ages? Social Security and Retirement around the World examines one explanation: social security programs actually provide incentives for early retirement. This volume houses a set of remarkable papers that present information on the social security systems, and labor force participation patterns, in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
"This book is highly recommended for the serious student of retirement age trends and social security old-age pension policies of industrial nations in a cross-national context." Martin B. Tracy, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare
“A path-breaking public-policy study. The authors consistently use a new methodology to evaluate the consequences of retirement systems on the behavior of older workers in eleven industrialized countries. In doing so, the book passes a major test of any conference volume the whole greatly exceeds the sum of its parts. This book without question provides the most consistent cross-national analyses of the work disincentives of retirement programs ever produces. Moreover it will serve as the model for all future efforts of this kind.” Journal of Economics
A comprehensive and sophisticated study of the relationship between social security policy and inequality in Latin America. Individual case studies of Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Argentina, and Mexico are presented, that provide a historical analysis of each country's social security policy, the pressure groups involved, the present structure of the systems, and a statistical examination of the inequality among these pressure groups.
Social Security in the United States and in Europe is at a critical juncture. Through the essays assembled in Social Security Pension Reform in Europe, Martin Feldstein and Horst Siebert, along with a number of distinguished contributors, discuss the challenges facing Social Security reform in the aging societies of Europe. A remarkable range of European nations—Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Hungary—have implemented or are about to implement mixed Social Security systems that combine a traditional defined benefit of the pay-as-you-go system with an individual retirement account defined contribution of a capital-funded system.
The essays here highlight the problems that the European pension reform process faces and how it differs from that of the United States. This timely volume will significantly enrich the debate on pension reform worldwide.
Even as life expectancy in many countries has continued to increase, social security and similar government programs can provide strong incentives for workers to leave the labor force when they reach the age of eligibility for benefits. Disability insurance programs can also play a significant role in the departure of older workers from the labor force, with many individuals in some countries relying on disability insurance until they are able to enter into full retirement.
The sixth stage of an ongoing research project studying the relationship between social security programs and labor force participation, this volume draws on the work of an eminent group of international economists to consider the extent to which differences in labor force participation across countries are determined by the provisions of disability insurance programs. Presented in an easily comparable way, their research covers twelve countries, including Canada, Japan, and the United States, and considers the requirements of disability insurance programs, as well as other pathways to retirement.
The future of Social Security is troubled, both in the United States and in most other developed countries with aging populations. As improvements in health care and changes in life styles enable retirees to live longer than ever before, the stress on national budgets will increase substantially. In Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World, Jonathan Gruber, David A. Wise, and experts in many countries examine the consequences of reforming retirement benefits in a dozen nations.
Drawing on the work of an international group of noted economists, the editors argue that social security programs provide strong incentives for workers to leave the labor force by retiring and taking the benefits to which they are entitled. By penalizing work, social security systems magnify the increased financial burden caused by aging populations, thus contributing to the insolvency of the system. This book is a model of comparative analysis that evaluates the effects of illustrative policies for countries facing the impending rapid growth of social security benefits. Its insights will help inform one of the most pressing debates.
Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World represents the second stage of an ongoing research project studying the relationship between social security and labor. In the first volume, Jonathan Gruber and David A. Wise revealed enormous disincentives to continued work at older ages in developed countries. Provisions of many social security programs typically encourage retirement by reducing pay for work, inducing older employees to leave the labor force early and magnifying the financial burden caused by an aging population. At a certain age there is simply no financial benefit to continuing to work.
In this volume, the authors turn to a country-by-country analysis of retirement behavior based on micro-data. The result of research compiled by teams in twelve countries, the volume shows an almost uniform correlation between levels of social security incentives and retirement behavior in each country. The estimates also show that the effect is strikingly uniform in countries with very different cultural histories, labor market institutions, and other social characteristics.
Is it true that the Social Security system is in serious trouble and must be repaired? As baby boomers begin to retire, will they inevitably, by force of their sheer numbers, bankrupt the system? Is Social Security a big Ponzi scheme that will leave future generations with little to show for their lifetime of contributions? Is the only way to solve the Social Security crisis through radical changes like privatization or bolstering it with massive new taxes?
According to the authors of this important new study, the answer to these questions is a resounding no. In Social Security: The Phony Crisis, economists Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot argue that there is no economic, demographic, or actuarial basis for the widespread belief that the program needs to be fixed.
As the authors emphasize, there is virtually no disagreement about the facts of Social Security's finances, or even the projections for its future. Rather, the Social Security debate has been foundering on misconceptions, confusion, and lack of agreement on the meaning of crucial terms.
The authors also take on related issues: that privatization would help save Social Security, that America has a pressing need to increase its national savings, and that future generations will suffer from the costs—especially for health care—of supporting a growing elderly population.
As New York Times columnist Fred Brock recently wrote, "So-called reform of the Social Security system is looking more and more like a solution in search of a problem." In this accessible and insightful work, Baker and Weisbrot seek to cut through some of the myths and fallacies surrounding this crucial policy issue.
"Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot have no trouble at all demonstrating that even on highly conservative assumptions about economic growth, the much-forecast insolvency of the Social Security system by about 2030 is most unlikely to happen then, if indeed ever."—The Economist
"The authors challenge basic assumptions with vigor and intelligence. . . . An absolutely relevant and important analysis, presented with force and clarity, that asks, basically, what kind of a nation we really are."—Kirkus Reviews
"Proponents—like George W. Bush—of Social Security privatization . . . typically ignore prospects for a stagnant or falling stock market. In Social Security: The Phony Crisis, [Baker and Weisbrot] show how a falling stock market could place pressure on both future Social Security payments and privatization schemes because earnings from the trust fund could actually fall."—Jeff Madrick, New York Review of Books
For the first one-third of the twentieth century, proposals for workmen's compensation, unemployment or health insurance, and widow's or old age pensions met steep resistance on the grounds that such programs would diminish the dignity of the individual. In this book, Roy Lubove examines the clash between the traditional American ethic of individualism and voluntarism and the push for an active government role in social welfare assistance, and the battles within the social security movement itself. He concludes his study with the actual legislative enactments of 1935 when, after the experience of the Great Depression, social insurance came into its own.
Why did the United States lag behind Germany, Britain, and Sweden in adopting a national plan for the elderly? When the Social Security Act was finally enacted in 1935, why did it depend on a class-based double standard? Why is old age welfare in the United States still less comprehensive than its European counterparts? In this sophisticated analytical chronicle of one hundred years of American welfare history, Jill Quadagno explores the curious birth of old age assistance in the United States. Grounded in historical research and informed by social science theory, the study reveals how public assistance grew from colonial-era poor laws, locally financed and administered, into a massive federal bureaucracy.