Rich Trumka, the current president of the AFL/CIO, has been fighting to protect Social Security for a very long time. (Take a look at this video from 1994, when he asks, “Where is the crisis?” and points out that Social Security is the target of “draconian” proposals while it was in surplus.)
He is one of a very few voices standing up for working people in this country, and here’s the speech he made yesterday to the Washington Press Club:
Good morning. Working people around the country know the value of Social Security, and the Labor Movement has long been one of its staunchest supporters.
The American Federation of Labor was there in 1935, advocating for passage of the Social Security Act. In the decades following, the AFL-CIO played a lead role in designing the evolving Social Security system — supporting efforts to strengthen and broaden the program, and opposing weakening of its protections. During the last Administration, we were key to defeating privatization.
In a misplaced effort to reduce the deficit, Social Security is under attack again –this time by proposals to raise the retirement age. And the right wing spin machine has convinced many Americans that Social Security won’t be there for them, anyway.
Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, goes door to door every night talking to thousands of people a week. What they hear is that working families — including young people — are deeply worried about their retirement security. They are hearing that their Social Security benefits may be cut — and they don’t see how they can possibly make up the difference.
At a time when retirement is less secure for working Americans than it has been in many generations, only Social Security remains a defined and stable retirement benefit — not to mention the important family protections it provides when a worker is injured or dies. Unions know exactly what is happening to retirement income in this country because we see it at the bargaining table. Fewer traditional pensions. More riskier 401(k) plans — not a great benefit for workers with stagnant incomes who find it difficult or impossible to save. Now is the time, to strengthen, not weaken, Social Security.
Raising the eligibility age for a full Social Security benefit would be disastrous for millions of Americans. It is a benefit cut, plain and simple. It is a cut that is unnecessary and one that Americans can ill-afford.
For those born in 1960 or later, the retirement age for a full Social Security benefit is now 67, rather than 65. These younger workers have already been hit with a 13 percent benefit cut — and some now want to impose another cut on top of that.
A 62-year old worker who would receive $800 a month if the retirement age for a full benefit were 65, will get only $700 a month when that retirement age becomes 67.
Further increasing the retirement age for a full benefit to 69 (and some are even saying 70) means another 13% cut in benefits — for a total benefit cut of more than 25% for anyone who is now 50 or younger. That probably includes many of you in this room.
An age increase is a particular hardship for workers in physically demanding jobs who don’t qualify for disability — workers like my father who spent his life in the mines and couldn’t work another day by the time he qualified for Social Security — and those older workers who may no longer be able to find work due to age discrimination.
I know that America can do better than this. And that’s why the AFL-CIO, as part of a broad campaign, is mobilizing to protect Social Security. I look forward to working with our many coalition partners to create a secure retirement for our baby boomers, our children, and grandchildren.