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Let’s fix Social Security together

Marketplace Staff Jan 10, 2007

Let’s fix Social Security together

Marketplace Staff Jan 10, 2007


SCOTT JAGOW: So is this the way’s gonna be? Democratic Congress. Republican White House. Gridlock, stalemates. Commentator Glenn Hubbard says on the issue of Social Security, it doesn’t have to be that way.

GLENN HUBBARD: The last time we debated Social Security reform, one side argued the program is in “crisis” while the other said that it only needs some minor fixes.

Neither side was listening.

That’s a pity because there’s a way to design the program to both build on its own success in lifting seniors out of poverty and help all Americans prepare for retirement.

Here’s how: Safety-net benefits to keep seniors out of poverty should be a vital part of our 21st Century Social Security system.

One way to do that is to guarantee a minimum benefit. A second alternative is to set a more generous initial benefit for low-income workers than for middle- and upper-income workers.

Next, the present value of Social Security’s unfunded liabilities is in the trillions of dollars.

One way out of that fiscal trap is to slow the rate of growth of Social Security benefits by moving from pegging them to wages to pegging them to inflation. With productivity growth, wages rise more quickly than the rate of inflation.

That shift eliminates Social Security’s financial shortfall over time and then some. These savings could be used to raise benefits of low-income workers in retirement.

To make up for less generous benefits, we should help today’s middle- and upper-income workers adjust by expanding incentives to save: bigger tax breaks for IRAs and 401Ks

We could match the contributions of low-income individuals to their savings accounts to some degree with public contributions to bolster future incomes in retirement.

We can do this all without a harmful tax increase and we can put aside personal accounts within Social Security in favor of add-on saving incentives.

Our elected officials can come together to solve big problems like ensuring a long-lasting, progressive Social Security system. Can’t they?

JAGOW: Glenn Hubbard is former head of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. He’s now Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Business. In Los Angeles, I’m Scott Jagow. Thanks for listening.

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