The Electrical Worker online
October 2015

The Secret Plot to Undermine an
American Cornerstone
Book Review: Social Security Works by
Nancy J. Altman and Eric R. Kingson

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In 2008, Peter G. Peterson, the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, formed a foundation and endowed it with a billion dollars of his own cash.

Unlike foundations formed by other billionaires, Peterson's wasn't aimed at alleviating world hunger or eradicating disease. In fact, one of the foundation's primary goals is to promote cutting Social Security and other popular programs that keep millions out of poverty in the name of "deficit reduction."

Social Security, established in 1935 during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration as an antidote to the Depression, was originally composed of two insurance programs — unemployment insurance and old age insurance. It included aid to dependent children and the blind. Developed under the leadership of Secretary of Labor Francis Perkins, the program was described by FDR as "[a law] which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age."

In "Social Security Works: Why Social Security Isn't Going Broke and How Expanding It Will Help Us All," authors Nancy J. Altman and Eric R. Kingson place Peterson's opposition to Social Security in the context of an 80-year war of misinformation against the program that began even before it was passed.

Despite compelling narratives on the founders and adversaries of a program that continues to keep millions of seniors, children and disabled workers out of poverty, "Social Security Works" isn't just a history book.

Altman and Kingson make a strong, convincing and well-documented case for why the program is essential, how opponents exaggerate its financial challenges and, most importantly, how Social Security can be strengthened not just for current retirees, but for generations to come.

Policy experts who served on a bi-partisan national commission in the 1980s to reform Social Security, the authors discuss the collapse of private, collectively-bargained pension plans. Many of the plans covered manufacturing workers whose jobs have been outsourced over the past few decades, a development that has decimated the savings of retirees, including tens of thousands of IBEW members.

Layered on top of the decline in the wealth of working families is the growing divide between the wealthiest Americans and average workers, a gap that has reduced the payroll deductions and taxes on Social Security income that have helped to build Social Security's $2.8 trillion surplus.

But fixing the program for the future would not be difficult, say the authors. By very slightly raising the current cap on income that is taxed to fund Social Security and implementing other common sense measures, the program can be strengthened. Eight bills to expand Social Security have been introduced in Congress.

The beneficiaries of an "All Generations Plan" proposed by the Social Security Works coalition, co-founded by the authors, will not be just current retirees or the baby boomers who will be retiring in large numbers over the next few years.

"Younger generations will reap greater benefits from an across-the-board increase [in benefits] than today's old," say the authors. "That's because, in raising the benefits of current beneficiaries, we also raise the benefits of those who will receive them in the future, and because today's old will receive this benefit improvement for fewer years than tomorrow's old."

Peterson and others label any attempt to increase Social Security's tax revenues as a move to "punish the entrepreneurs." In response to that charge, the authors cite stark statistics and pose sharp questions on what will happen if Social Security benefits are cut or the program is privatized:

Who will help the growing number of grandparents who save taxpayers billions of dollars in foster care while they stretch their savings to the breaking point caring full-time for their grandchildren?

Who will help middle-aged workers of medium and low incomes who are forced to supplement the savings of their aging parents while simultaneously providing for their children's education?

How will we build a strong and vibrant future for working families if guys like Paul Peterson succeed in undermining Social Security and placing a heavier financial burden on already struggling families?

"Social Security Works" provides not just answers, but ammunition for union members and retirees to set the record straight, to convince our fellow citizens to support the strengthening of a critical program that, while still overwhelmingly popular, is under relentless attack.

After all, that support is essential to move politicians away from the harmful prescriptions of some of their wealthiest campaign donors.

"This book is an important call to the U.S. Congress," says AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka. "'Social Security Works'" explains how and why expanding Social Security is a solution to our nation's retirement income crisis."


'Social Security Works!' convincingly argues the 80-year-old program is more important than ever.