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Secure in Arkansas.

THERE'S LITTLE DOUBT SOCIAL Security is one of the most successful programs ever to come out of Washington.

It truly deserves its reputation as the third rail of politics, a reference to the third rail that carries the electric current with the obvious meaning that any politician who touches it will die.

In 2003, Social Security provided more than $471 billion in benefits to more than 47 million people.

While many think of Social Security as simply a retirement program, it never was intended to be that. It was designed during the Great Depression to be a social insurance program to supplement whatever Americans had and keep them out of poverty.

Over time it has proven to be safety net for millions, especially low- and middle-income workers and families who have retired, had a disability or had income cut off by a death.

President Bush claims the current Social Security program is in crisis and is unsustainable. But any drastic changes should be carefully considered for their long-term impact.

We say that because of what Social Security means to Arkansas.

The Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that provides research and education on issues affecting low-income and middle-income families, recently released information it gathered to show just how important Social Security is to the state.

Ponder these figures:

* 20 percent of the state's population, or 543,727 people, receive some Social Security benefits. That puts the state third in the nation ranked by percentage.

* Arkansas ranks fifth among the states with 22 percent, or 119,173 residents, receiving disability payments. It also ranks fifth among the states with 8 percent, or 41,230 children, under the age of 18 receiving benefits.

* The total of all Social Security benefit payments made in Arkansas is $4.7 billion.

* 7.5 percent of personal income in Arkansas is from Social Security, the second-highest percentage in the country.

The group released more information on Arkansas and Social Security, and it's easy to see the huge impact Social Security has on the state's economy. And that impact should increase as baby boomers begin to retire in the next few years. That is unless Congress lowers benefits, as planned, to pay for Bush's plan--benefits that may or may not be made up by the personal accounts that the president favors.

Social Security is a topic on which political ideology needs to take a back seat to economic realism. We trust our Congressional delegation to see clearly what's at stake as the president continues to push his plan despite dwindling public support.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Mar 14, 2005
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