Various sociological implications have arisen and much debate across the country has been influenced by the federal program of social security. Since the inception of social security in 1935, a multitude of concerns have plagued the United States, varying from how social security affects poverty, old age and the family in our country, to the generational issues and ominous demographic factors inherent in this federal system.
Although some government officials propose that the privatization of social security and/or pushing back the retirement age would help alleviate these social security implications, the sociological implications still remain. The United States must reevaluate their current social security program in place to help make this cycle of generational codependency end one and for all. Since the inception of social security into the United States in 19351, various sociological implications have arisen and much debate across the country has been influenced by this federal program.
The effectiveness and efficiency of social security is pressing social issue that is still present to this day, and there are numerous issues and concerns associated with this system. From concerns over how social security affects poverty, old age and the family in our country, to the generational issues and ominous demographic factors inherent in this federal system, social security is one the most deliberated and disputed issues in the United States.
The ultimate aim of a sociological approach to social security is all about more effective social protection for all citizens, and better adaption to the needs of the United States populace; one must examine social security from its introduction into society and discover how each and every generation since has struggled with many of the same generational issues as there are today.
Although some solutions proposed have temporary remedies for the social problems innate in social security, the United States must reevaluate this entire federal system to better suit all Americans, including workers, retirees and future generations alike. The United States social security program refers to the Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expenditure in our federal budget2.
Originally enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as a part of the New Deal, the Social Security Act encompasses various social welfare and social insurance programs: besides the Federal OASDI program, the act also included, unemployment benefits, temporary assistance for needy families, health insurance for the aged and disabled (Medicare), grants to states for medical assistance programs (Medicaid), state children’s health insurance program and supplemental security income3.
The original premise of social security was an attempt to limit what were seen as dangers in the modern American life, such as old age, poverty, unemployment and the burdens that widows and fatherless children face. Social security is a social insurance program funded through dedicated payroll taxes from all working American citizens called Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA)4. When the Social Security Act was first established, there were various concerns raised all the country over the new program.
One of the biggest issues with the new program was it would cause a loss of jobs all across the country (something the United States did not need as it was just exiting the Great Depression5. ) But proponents of the new social security system reacted to this claim by saying that social security would encourage older workers to retire, thereby creating opportunities for younger people to find jobs (which would then lower the unemployment rate. Also, women were barely covered in the new social security system, having almost no unemployment insurance and old age pensions whatsoever6. African-Americans too were lacking these necessary benefits from social security (although this is more understandable when looking at the evolution of Black rights in the United States and how the Civil Rights Movement did not begin until the 1950’s7. ) Both of these concerns were addressed over the first few years of the social security program, yet they are still being refined to this day.
One of the first sociological implications of social security is the concept of the American family. It is a well known fact that family structures have changed considerably since the rise of social security in 1935, with the most well known changes including the increase in the number of women in the workforce, the extremely rapid increase in the divorce rate and the increase in single-parent families across the country8.
It is essential in any sociological analysis of social security to examine the benefits that are affected by changes in the family model, the lifestyle of these families in the United States, and, in particular, by questioning the concerns of entitlement to pensions in the event of divorce, by beneficiaries of family allowances, etc9. The inequality of the sexes in respect to social security benefits has also been debated and deliberated many times, even though the roots of this inequality are found in a different field: working relationships.
Studies have shown that this type of inequality is heightened by the fact that social security programs were established in a period when few women went out to work and were regarded as being completely dependent on their husbands for their compensation from working10; this shows that this sociological implication is routed in the discrepancy between the aims of social policy and the actual social situation. Another sociological implication of social security is the notion of poverty.
Social security was enacted in part in 1935 to combat the depression, to ultimately decrease poverty and prevent the emergence of “new poverty,” which is caused by long-term unemployment for a multitude of Americans11. Even though studies have shown that the disappearance of social security benefits at the present time would cause a considerable increase in poverty, social security itself cannot reduce poverty in society by any means, creating a social paradox12.
The undeniable objective of social security is to guarantee for most individuals a minimum standard of living that can cover a number of possibilities; however, sociological studies have shown that social security is not well equipped for the fight against enduring poverty, which has multiple causes that vary in time. Hence, this social paradox is one of the biggest debates concerning social security and there does not seem to be a solution in the near future to this contradiction among federal programs.
The sociological implication of old age is another controversy enveloped in social security, as the United States faces major social problems that not only which not only affect retirement pensions, but also medical care, housing, transport, etc. for the elderly13. The main sociological research carried out in this context has consisted of examining the life style and living conditions of the elderly, and how they are affected by social security. The relationship between old age and the state has been examined by a number of sociologists, almost all of whom have demonstrated the ambiguities of policies for the elderly.
According to these studies, such policies have too frequently maintained logic based on the assistance and segregation of their application, and usually generate a negative view of old age14. The consequent risk is that the elderly may become the victims of our inability to adjust social security structures to the actual actions and regulations employed by the United States government. There are also a number of sociological implications revolving around the generational issues of social security. The long-term prospects for the social security system have always been a huge issue in America, and with each generation come new concerns.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, the prospects for the 2014 current tax revenues will be insufficient to pay current benefits, and by 2029 the Social Security Trust Fund will be completely exhausted15. Among these looming problems with the social security system, this is a social issue that has immense generational issues that affects all Americans and the generation before them: social security is basically a pay-as-you-go system that employs each generation of workers paying the benefits of current retirees.
This has been the case since the creation of social security and with each generation comes new issues and concerns. There are also various demographic factors that affect social security as well. Life expectancy is increasing faster than expected: in 1940, a 65-year-old man could expect to live another 12 years, today it is 15 years, and by 2040 it will be 17 years16. The fertility rate is also falling faster than expected: from 3. 6 children for a typical woman of child-bearing age in 1960 to just two today and a projected 1. by 2020 (and it is already less than the rate of 2. 1 needed to replace the existing population with a sufficient workforce17. ) The elderly portion of the population is also expected to rise from 12 percent today to 20 percent by 2050, increasing the number of retirees from 34 million to 80 million18.
The smaller working-age population and larger elderly population means that where there were more than five workers for each retiree in 1960 and 3. workers per retiree today; by 2030 there will be just two workers to pay the taxes for the benefits of each retiree19. All of these startling demographic factors, in addition to the standard generational issues associated with social security, have cause for great concern in the United States if a solution to these problems is not found. In terms of social security reform, one of the most discussed and debated issues is the prospect of privatization of social security.
By privatizing social security, every working citizen can divert four percent of the existing payroll tax (FICA) to private investments and reduce the government benefits. Former President George W. Bush was a strong supporter of the privatization of social security, and current President Barack Obama does not see any logic in the system whatsoever20. Advocates of the privatization plan point to several key points about the system, while those opposed to the plan emphasize various ominous factors related to the privatization of social security.
Those who support the privatization of social security in the United States believe that a privatized social security system would lessen the obstructions for work and saving, and is likely to contribute to an increase in the economic growth (something our country needs today more than ever21. ) Considering that privatized social security would need advance funding, it is very likely that the program would need the repeated changes and regulations that have become a regular feature of the current social security program (making the program a standard in American life22. Proponents of the system also believe that investing in private accounts for social security would lessen the opportunity for the government to use the social security surpluses (as low as it is) to cover current deficits, and privatization would eliminate that as a source of government revenue while emphasizing the need to address other funding problems23. Moreover, privatizing social security would certainly build confidence and support for the social security program, reforming this program to give the younger working generations a new level of confidence24.
But for those who do not agree with the privatization of social security, there is a series of ominous factors they point to when opposing this proposed system. One of the factors is that the insurance that protects workers and their families today against disability and death would be threatened: the rates of return to the existing social security system are already very complicated and this would desert the value of the social security’s insurance policies.
Making the transition to privatized social security would make social security’s financing problem even worse: funds would be diverted from the current social security system and the revenues that pay for the benefits of today’s retirees would undoubtedly suffer26. Also, the private accounts from the privatization of social security could dampen economic growth by increasing fiscal deficits and debt significantly, which would further weaken social security’s future finances (defeating the point of revitalizing social security all together.
These private accounts would critically risk the long term fiscal health of the program and instead of benefits from social security being based on your work history, all citizens’ benefits would depend on their investment skills (placing new, unnecessary burdens on the American population27. ) Beside the privatization of social security, there have been various propositions to change certain aspects of the social security system.
One suggestion is to raise the payroll tax (the money taken out of citizen’s paychecks by FICA) so that more money can be accumulated every year, adding more money to the social security fund28. The drawback here is that almost all Americans are sick of paying a portion of their pay to FICA every paycheck, and announcing an increase in the tax might cause an unnecessary backlash among the American population. Another proposition to help revitalize social security is to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67, or even possibly 7029.
This would push back millions of American from retiring and would give the social security fund a few years to recuperate and prepare for the looming baby boomer retirement trend. However, the biggest drawback here would be the frustration by millions of American planning on retiring at the age of 65; this could cause a civil upheaval by unhappy Americans who believe they have the right to retire at the specified age of 65 and believe that they should not have to work an extra two to five years to have a sufficient retirement plan in place.
Social security has been one of the most pressing issues in the United States for almost 75 years, encompassing various sociological implications. Whether it is the concept of the American family, poverty or old age, social security is at the focal point of each of these social issues. But the greatest burden social security bears on the United States population is that it is basically a pay-as-you-go system that employs each generation of workers paying for the benefits of current retirees.
These generational issues can only get worse without some huge, positive changes in the social security system. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is a UN agency that brings together governments, employers and workers of its member states in common action to promote decent work throughout the world.
The ILO defines successful social security as: “giving individuals and families the confidence that their level of living and quality of life will not, in so far as possible, be greatly eroded by any social or economic eventuality; this involves not merely meeting needs as they arise but also preventing risks from arising in the first place and helping individuals and families to make the best possible adjustment when they are faced with disabilities and disadvantages which have not been, and could not be, prevented30. Considering that the ultimate aim of any sociological approach to social security is to discover more effective social protection that is adapted to the needs of the population, the United States must reevaluate their current social security program in place to help make this cycle of generational codependency end.