Social Security and Family Restoration

Social security is a program that nearly every individual in the United States will participate in at some point in their lives.  The benefits generally provide support for disabled, needy, or elderly individuals.  These provisions have gained such importance that the colonial-era of charitably providing for those in need is losing importance. 

This is particularly important in the context of an aging American demographic where many seniors become impoverished in their reliance on social security benefits.  Are government provisions for the elderly preferable to private charity when poverty prevails in developed countries?  That's the question that Regent 3L Rebekah Deuel-Jones asks in her article and accompanying presentation entitled "Social Security Reform: Keeping the Promise to the Elderly Population."  She writes:

The duty of fellow man to care for the poor, disabled, and elderly is hardly a newly acquired responsibility.  The Bible contains a myriad of references to identify this need to care for the “least of these,” and further details the corresponding duty of Christians to care for the needy. The Bible also contains specific commandments regarding elder care, including that Believers '[s]tand up in the presence of the aged, [and] show respect for the elderly. . . .'  Finally, Christians have an elevated duty to care for their elderly parents and grandparents as the same is 'pleasing in the sight of God.'

These commandments continued to be heeded even through early colonial times.  Family relationships were the key opponent of poverty, whether the care-giving family be of biological relation to the individual in need, or merely members of the same tight-knit community. In the stead of the state, both individual citizens and the church assumed the primary duty to care for the needy and did so with a moral emphasis:  charity was to be provided to those members of the community who met their own responsibilities, yet had fallen on hard times.  Private charities and local governments supplemented this care through assistance of in kind gifts to those in need, as well as direct monetary reimbursements to those who took in elderly and orphans of no blood relation. These practices continued on throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but slowly lost momentum as America became industrialized and the community spirit became decreasingly prevalent in localities as the national government grew in size and strength.

Though with modernity society advanced in many ways, it took several steps backward in other ways.  In his 1990 State of the Union Address, President George H.W. Bush directed his attention to elderly Americans, stating, 'To every American out there on Social Security, to every American supporting that system today, and to everyone counting on it when they retire, we made a promise to you, and we are going to keep it.' The promise to which President Bush refers was first made in 1935 through the establishment of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds by the Social Security Act.  Designed to care for the elderly in the wake of the Great Depression when communal care for the elder was not possible as the resources of private citizens had been compromised, this promise has continuously been renewed for every elderly generation since that of the 1930’s.

The original Act was arguably necessary to care for members of the elderly population who had lost their life savings in the 1929 market crash.  The need created for those elderly affected by the market crash has come and gone with the passing of that generation, yet the practices established to care for the current elderly population remain the same with no shift back to the pre-Depression system of voluntary communal care. 

Subsequent elderly generations remain in financial need, and must derive their post-retirement financial shortages from a different source in the absence of a market crash.  Why do members of post-depression era generations still require post-retirement support beyond their own means?  Is the answer as simple as the known fact that communal care for the elderly is no longer prevalent?

To determine why this need still exists despite a stable market, this article will compare the sources of post-retirement income, both prior to 1935 and after, including charitable giving, family contributions, supplements made by the church, and benefits provided by employers and the government.  It will further discuss the historical background surrounding OASDI as well as alternative methods to support the elderly utilized by foreign nations to offer a remedy to the anticipated collapse of the Social Security system as Americans today know it.  Finally, it will offer suggestions to reform the Social Security system, taking into consideration the financial responsibility for elder care placed upon both the elderly and the general population; the burden placed upon the government to most efficiently and effectively care for the elderly; and the psychological consequences of disallowing Americans to make personal choices with regard to Social Security payroll taxes and subsequent government funded benefits.  Elderly poverty cannot be solved through government provisions alone.

Family restoration calls for a special concern for poverty, and particularly poverty among elderly family members.  Government reliance is not always the best solution.  Charity is the beginning of better solutions for such problems to strengthen individuals, families, and nations.

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