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Friday, October 28, 2016

By Luciana Lopez

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Hillary Clinton has told the AFL-CIO she wants to improve Social Security benefits for women and lower-income seniors, offering a glimpse of the Democratic presidential front-runner’s thinking on a topic she has rarely addressed on the campaign trail.

In a questionnaire on labor issues from April that has not been made public, Clinton said she would defend Social Security from Republican attacks and “enhance it to meet new realities.”

Leaders with the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group for 56 member unions representing more than 12.5 million workers, pressed Clinton and other candidates at a meeting last month on issues such as trade and wages.

The questionnaires were sent to the candidates before the meeting. The AFL-CIO did not endorse a candidate for the November 2016 election.

“I’m especially focused on the fact that we need to improve how Social Security works for women,” she wrote in the questionnaire, which was seen by Reuters and confirmed by three union sources.

“I also want to enhance benefits for our most vulnerable seniors,” she wrote, adding that she will have proposals on retirement security for Americans “in the weeks and months ahead.”

The social security system is under scrutiny amid concerns the country’s retiring “baby boomers,” those born between 1946 and 1964, will place an increasingly heavy burden on the program. About 10,000 baby boomers will hit age 65 every day for the next 17 years or so, according to the Pew Research Center, stressing public finances for decades to come as the government cuts more checks for pensions and healthcare bills.

Eighty-six percent of older Americans received Social Security benefits in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration.

Clinton said this month that she would consider raising the cap on the amount of earnings taxable for Social Security, but has otherwise said little about the program.

However, her main rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, has proposed expanding the program’s benefits.


In contrast, several Republican hopefuls have talked about cutting benefits. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has also talked about raising the retirement age for the program.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment.

Economists note that women face particular concerns with Social Security, including lower wages during working years, often resulting in lower benefits.

One possible solution, said Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at The New School, would be to increase benefits.

“Raising the minimum benefit to the poverty level is not very expensive,” said Ghilarducci, who is also an external adviser to the campaign.

She said she expects Clinton to roll out her policies on the issue around October or November of this year.

“Social Security was pivotal in reducing poverty among the aged,” noted Heather Boushey, the executive director and chief economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, another external adviser to the campaign.

Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, has spoken out about the gender “wage gap.”

“It’s way past time to end the outrage of so many women still earning less than men on the job,” she said in July.

Women also sometimes spend time out of the work force to care for family members, years without a paycheck that can contribute to lower Social Security benefits.

Ann O’Leary, a policy adviser on staff with Clinton, wrote a Center for American Progress report in 2012 partly on “caregiving credits” within Social Security to help mitigate penalties in the program for years of unpaid family caregiving.

(Reporting by Luciana Lopez, additional reporting by Amanda Becker, editing by G Crosse and Ross Colvin)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner in Clear Lake, Iowa, United States, August 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Jim Young   

  • Dominick Vila

    Hillary finally touched on a topic that is genuine and may elicit interest from seniors and the general public, if our media decides to talk about it. The Social Security benefits that most housewives get are an embarrassment. They are usually in the $660 a month range, which is clearly insufficient to live on.
    The answer to this issue by the GOP is likely to replace SS with a private, for profit, system that those housewives, and most Americans, could not afford, or do without.

    • Eleanore Whitaker

      Dominick, I just went three rounds with SS since my retirement in 2013. Because my last year’s salary was lower than my ex’s, SS was under his benefits, not mine. Even though I worked for 22 years longer than he did. His salary in 1985 was more than mine in 2013. This was not due to lack of ambition or laziness on my part. I was promoted several times. I even left one company when I saw how they favored giving promotions and raises to the men but never the women. The progression of higher income for women in the US is woefully criminal.

      Then, in 2015, I received a letter from SS saying that since my last year’s income was increased due to the 8% annual SS COLA, I should now file SS under my own income.

      I had the good fortune of working for one female employer. I can tell you that her business was focused on equal rights for women. We knew if we worked hard and accomplished the goals of the business, we would be entitled to the expectation of a promotion or salary increase. Not so in the other three male owned companies I worked for. These jobs were an exercise in futility. No matter how much I accomplished or increased my skills, men were always always getting the promotions.

      This is why the GOP so hates the idea of a female president. They know that things will change and men will not just ASSume they are Numero Uno Masters of the Universe.

    • Allan Richardson

      Furthermore, such a retirement plan, unlike SS, is not INSURED against loss by the individual. The whole premise of SS is that of pooling everyone’s cash to pay current pensions and allow the trust fund to grow slowly but securely to provide for the future. If you are a good saver and conscientious investor, but your investments happen to be unlucky, or the economy goes bad just as you need to cash out some of those investments for retirement (or the pre-retirement layoffs that companies love these days, or health challenges), you no longer have the decades you would need to start over and rebuild it. That was what happened to many good people in 1929-30, and that was WHY Social Security was made a guaranteed benefit, rather than a guaranteed-contribution, program.

      • Dominick Vila

        I agree 100%. Needless to say, the same is true for those who live paycheck to paycheck, can barely stay afloat, and can’t set money aside for retirement or anything else.
        The idea that privatizing SS and replacing it with for-profit plans defies logic. The private sector depends on sales and profits to exist. They would not offer retirement – or healthcare coverage for that matter – if they were not convinced that their investment was going to produce a good Return on Investment, and that the chances of incurring losses were minimal. A similar case could be made for investment in infrastructure. Companies are happy to build roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, airports, and other examples of infrastructure for the government, but most of them are unwilling to risk investment in something that may not produce the desired ROI or that may result in significant losses.
        Contrary to what the GOP loves to say, government, which in the USA means us, has a role to play in guaranteeing our well being and security. Interestingly, it also helps the private sector when they hire contractors to do much of the work associated with government-run projects.

  • charleo1

    It’s a scary World, if you’re a Senior. I was talking to a friend of mine last year, he is 68. He was saying, I don’t trust politicians to protect SS. They can do anything they want at any time, he said. I tried to reassure my friend that eliminating SS, or Medicare, or even cutting these two wildly popular programs, would be political suicide. My friend wasn’t convinced. And truthfully neither am I. Look, it’s scary World if you’re Senior today. It’s also getting to be a very scary, hard scrabble World, if one is trying to make a decent living, anywhere today. Globalization, technology over the last 20 years have seen India, and China alone add more than 1.5 billion workers to the available labor pool. A labor pool that is in direct competition with ours. And these emerging potential economic juggernauts, with their .75 cent a day wage floors, lax environmental and worker safety standards, do not worry about their worker’s standard of living, the quality of their healthcare, or certainly not their economic security after they are too old, too sick, or too disabled to work. And there are many economists who don’t believe America itself can long afford to continue to spend so much more than the going global rate on it’s labor, and remain an economic superpower. I hear Americans want their politicians to be straight with them. Well, try running for President on this message. It’s not the undocumented immigrant, or our unsecured borders that is stagnating American wages. They are merely convenient scapegoats, and ugly distractions used to cover over a much more intractable and pervasive problem that is now threatening living wages, access to healthcare, and old age security, not only in America, but in modern societies around the World…. Globalization.

    • Independent1

      In addition to globalization, being a senior has been made a lot more scary to today’s retirees thanks to a guy named Ronald Reagan who started big-time the destruction of unions; unions that fought to get companies to provide pensions for their workers and many to provide matches into 401ks for their employees. More and more, those retiring today (thanks to Ronald Reagan) are retiring with one income source, SS or SS and a very small 401k account.

      Fortunately, the demise of unions and companies that offered pensions and generous 401k matches have taken place since I retired almost 20 years ago. With my 3 income sources, I’m not living high-on-the-hog, but I shutter to try and imagine what it would be like to try and live without 2, or even 1 of my supplemental incomes that I now receive in addition to my SS benefit.

      • charleo1

        Well, you’re right. It’s what I would call the tragic loss of labor’s ability to speak with any clout about wages, benefits, or job security, even after decades on the job, that has greatly contributed in it’s own way to the worsening situation average workers are facing in the workplace. And to make matter even more grim, is the shockingly poor financial condition that statisticians have discovered about the so called, “Baby Boomer Generation.” in regards to their own dire financial situations as they face retirement at a clip of about 10,000 a day now. (See link below) And that scenario only promises to worsen for the millions of 20 and 30 somethings of tomorrow, if some fundamental things about the U.S. economy aren’t changed in a fairly short order. And the frustrating thing is, it wouldn’t take all this drama. Things could be made a lot better, if more people were actually looking at the problem for what it is. Instead of casting around for some boggy man, some politician, or worse, some ethic minority to blame. It’s the nature of our politics that has the GOP making apologies for the 1% that are by far profiting the most from the worsening plight of labor. That has been true for a long time. What has changed is the Right’s willingness to obstruct for political reasons, some of the more effective remedies that could greatly mitigate the situation in the outer years. When it will undoubtedly be much worse, if we keep on the present course. Of course what we need to be doing is increasing public investment. Investments in higher education, investing in modernization. Especially broadband capability, and inner city public transportation, rebuilding, and repairing much of the rest. While rolling back the military budget, cutting unwarranted subsidies to corporate farms, and giant oil cos. to create the funds for things like cutting edge cyber security, and R&D, if we won’t raise taxes. Historically, along with Ed. thing like these have been the best investments the gov. has ever made. Also in science, medicine, and technology. It is extremely troubling to me that the Conservatives have seemingly lost faith in these types of public investments at a time the Country needs them more than ever. Well now I’m just running on. Just a few random thoughts to a friend.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The cards in the US are deliberately stacked against female employees. For every dollar an American male earns, women, even the most professional earn 77 cents. So, women in the workplace start out with less money to invest in 401Ks, SS and Medicare.

    What about a lower income for women don’t some get? How is a woman who earns 77 cents less than a man’s $1 supposed to be equal in financial stability?

    Then, there are the employers who deliberately expect women to work longer, harder and for less and then stiff them on promotions these women deserve. All it takes is a roomful of good old boys in the Executive Board meetings to decide how to jack the incomes of their male employees so women’s salaries don’t ever exceed a man’s.

    The problem with some American men is their vision. They see only through the prism of manhood. Anything else has no importance.

    This is why women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren and Wendy Davis fight fight fight for women’s equality in the workplace and in society.

    You can be a young woman and be poor. You can never be an old woman and be poor. Neither can you live on a lifetime of lower salaries so men can hold first place in earnings and then expect to ever retire. If you are a woman in the US, the unfair attitudes of men can be seen en masse with the GOP, right wing, Tea Party and rich bulls who got that way by working women harder than they work men.

  • Neal Feldman

    What about the disabled? Raise to the FPL? Wow an extra $20 a month? Gee, how generous!

    How about a 1 time 100% COLA with a cap of 2x the FPL, future COLAs based on the CPI-E instead of the CPI-W and complete removal of the payroll tax income cap?

    Hardly the lap of luxury but at least we could pay our bills!

    • Allan Richardson

      In order to get the support of the “poorer rich,” high earned income households such as doctors and attorneys, the payroll tax cap need not be removed, just turned into a GAP instead of a CAP. For example, the current cap is about $112K the last I heard (why that odd number?). Move it down to $100K to make it a round number (which the $101-111K earners would love), but then reinstate the payroll tax for all income ABOVE ONE MILLION dollars annually, at the same rate as the bottom level. So you pay payroll tax on your first $100K and on all but your first million. The trust fund gets a big boost, keeping it solvent, and by combining that with a COLA (I think that since ALL measures of poverty levels and minimum wages have been stagnant so long, a 100% catch up for the last 40 years would be a good idea), MORE CONSUMER SPENDING would enrich the wealthy far more than the extra tax would take away.

      • Neal Feldman

        I see no reason to perpetuate the cap… just get rid of it. It is hardly going to cause fiscal hardship to do so. I go by the KISS model.