The Corner

Economy & Business

The Rubio-Wagner Bills Help Workers by Modernizing Social Security

(Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Representative Ann Wagner (R., Mo.) wrote in USA Today that they are introducing legislation (the Senate bill will drop this week) to modernize our more than 80-year-old public pension system — Social Security — to make it more flexible and better able to meet the needs of today’s workers.

This is welcome news. Currently, workers are required to begin paying Social Security’s taxes on their first day on the job, and then (unless they become disabled) they aren’t allowed to access any of those benefits until they reach the retirement age under the law (which is 67 for workers born after 1960, though people are allowed to retire as early as 62) when they begin to receive a monthly pension.

The proposed reform recognizes that many workers need financial support earlier in their lives more than they do in their sixties. The Rubio bill would allow a worker to access a portion of his or her Social Security benefits after the birth or the adoption of a child, in exchange for delaying his or her eligibility for retirement benefits.

Since many workers lack paid-leave benefits on the job, and have little savings accrued when having a child, this would help many who face a significant financial stress at a very important and vulnerable time. An estimated 17 percent of all workers (and half of low-income workers) who lack paid leave end up going on public assistance when they take time off from work. Giving them access to early Social Security benefits (which they would then effectively pay back by trading one benefit for another) would reduce dependency on other government programs.

Some have argued that it’s unfair to ask those who take parental leave to delay retirement. But the amount of delay is relatively modest — someone who takes three months’ worth of benefits would delay retirement by about three months. Given that someone born in 1970, who reaches age 65, has a life expectancy of more than 15 years (17 years for women), delaying retirement by a few months still leaves room for a relatively long retirement.

Others have argued that this would worsen Social Security’s finances by moving up when some benefits are paid, which would move up the date of the Trust Fund’s exhaustion. That could be addressed by requiring that the Trust Fund be reimbursed by the general Treasury for expenses related to this new benefit. Some may dismiss this as an accounting gimmick, but the Social Security Trust Fund has always been an accounting mechanism, and it’s a distraction to focus on the date that it runs out.

We should rather focus on the big picture of liabilities for taxpayers. This reform wouldn’t change Social Security’s overall financial health: It faces a significant unfunded liability today and would continue to face the same liability if this reform becomes law. But this reform could reduce dependency on other government assistance programs, encourage labor-force attachment, and discourage states from creating other more costly paid-leave programs that require new taxes on all workers.

Touching Social Security has long been considered a political nonstarter, but it shouldn’t be. This is a modest and targeted reform that would help people who really need it, and make our entitlement programs more modern and flexible, rather than bigger.

Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Most Popular

U.S.

Men Literally Died for That Flag, You Idiots

The American flag’s place in our culture is beginning to look less unassailable. The symbol itself is under attack, as we’ve seen with Nike dumping a shoe design featuring an early American flag, Megan Rapinoe defending her national-anthem protests (she says she will never sing the song again), and ... Read More
Books

The Plot against Kavanaugh

Justice on Trial, by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino (Regnery,  256 pp., $28.99) The nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was the political event of 2018, though not for the reasons anyone expected. All High Court confirmations these days are fraught with emotion and tumult ... Read More
Politics & Policy

He Just Can’t Help Himself

By Saturday, the long-simmering fight between Nancy Pelosi and her allies on one side and the “squad” associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other had risen to an angrier and more destructive level at the Netroots Nation conference. Representative Ayanna Pressley, an African-American Massachusetts ... Read More
White House

On Gratitude and Immigration

Like both Rich and David, I consider it flatly inappropriate for the president of the United States to be telling Americans -- rhetorically or otherwise -- to “go back where you came from.” In consequence, you will find no defense of the president from me, either. What Trump tweeted over the weekend was ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Is Completely Assimilated

Beto O’Rourke, the losing Texas Senate candidate who bootstrapped his way into becoming a losing presidential candidate, had a message for refugees who had come to America: Your new country is a hellhole. The former congressman told a roundtable of refugees and immigrants in Nashville, Tenn., last week: ... Read More
Sports

We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team

For the first time in my life, I did not root for an American team. Whatever the sport, I have always rooted American. And if those who called in to my radio show were representative of my audience, many millions of Americans made the same sad choice. It takes a lot for people like me not to root for an ... Read More
Education

Gender Dissenter Gets Fired

Allan M. Josephson is a distinguished psychiatrist who, since 2003, has transformed the division of child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology at the University of Louisville from a struggling department to a nationally acclaimed program. In the fall of 2017 he appeared on a panel at the Heritage Foundation ... Read More