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Social Security: will the money be there for you when you retire?


Students should understand

* why Social Security was created, how it has been used, and some of the conflicting opinions about potential problems and solutions for the program's future.


benefits: insurance payments made to retirees, the disabled, children, and other groups * poverty line: a government standard for level of income, below which a person or family is considered poor. (This amount is adjusted regularly.)


With the debate over Social Security so much in the news, students have probably heard of it. But do any really know what it is? Are any students, or family members, receiving benefits?


Social Security is not the only federal benefits program. For example, an unemployment insurance program aids workers who lose their jobs. Medicare, created by Congress in 1965, helps people over age 65 cover medical costs, while Medicaid does the same for the poor.


COMPREHENSION: Where does the money paid as Social Security benefits come from? (taxes deducted from most workers' paychecks)

MAIN IDEA: Why will less money be available to future retirees? (There will be more people receiving benefits for longer periods of time, with fewer workers to fund the program.)


BACK TO THE BEGINNING: Have students listen to or read the brief speech President Roosevelt made in 1935, when he signed the Social Security Act into law. (See item #2 at Help them understand and discuss the points made.

Do you know someone who receives Social Security benefits and is not retired? Chances are you do. In fact, that person could be sitting in your classroom.

Today, more than 3 million kids under the age of 18 receive benefits from Social Security--a government program that many people think supports only retirees. Some recipients are the children of working parents who died. Others have disabled or retired parents. Additionally, more than 2 million kids live in households where at least one adult receives benefits.

Mason Schurmeier was 5 years old when his father was killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He receives Social Security checks that supplement his family's income. "It helps a lot," says Mason's mother, Ayako.

Six years ago, when Brendan B. Lafferty was 14, his father died suddenly of a heart attack. The Social Security checks that Brendan and his sister received until they were 18 enabled them and their mother to stay in their home.

"Without [the extra income], things would have been pretty tight," Brendan says.

Dwindling Funds

Today, the future of Social Security is in dispute. President George W. Bush has made overhauling (changing) the program a major goal of his second term. So far, his focus has been on retirement benefits.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935, the U.S. was struggling through the Great Depression, an economic crisis that left millions of people jobless. Social Security was to be a type of insurance that would be paid for by a tax on workers' paychecks. It began with retirement benefits, but later was expanded to include survivor and disability benefits.

Social Security is the U.S. government's largest program--and, in many ways, its most successful. According to the Government Accountability Office, 48 percent of individuals receiving Social Security benefits in 2000 would have been below the poverty line without their checks.

But because of an aging population, the system will likely face a cash shortfall in the coming decades. Baby boomers are nearing retirement, and people are living longer. This means that more money will be needed for each retiree--as the amount available for each falls. In 1950, for example, there were about 16 workers to support every individual who received Social Security benefits. By 2050, experts project, the ratio will drop to just two workers per retiree. If changes are not made, your generation--tomorrow's workers--could face a heavy tax burden.

Private Accounts

The U.S. Congress is debating proposals to address the problem, including raising the Social Security tax and cutting benefits. President Bush wants to allow workers to create private retirement accounts. This means that people could invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market. By some estimates, such accounts would enable workers to receive more money than they would have under the current system. Workers would also be able to leave private accounts to their families.

"A personal account will give families a lot more opportunity to build savings that they own, that they control, and that they can choose how to use," says Alison Fraser, an economic analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a research institute that supports the President's plan.

Other people say that only individuals earning high salaries will be able to put enough money into private accounts to support their families. "It's good for some, bad for others, and bad for those who need it the most," says Diana Zuckerman, head of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families. Many critics also warn of the unpredictability of the stock market, and the danger of losing that money completely.

The cost of setting up and running the accounts is another concern. Estimates of the President's proposal vary--some put the price tag at hundreds of billions of dollars, while others put it in the trillions. While many people find the cost too high, others say that spending the money now will save much more in the long run.

Last month, support for the President's plan appeared to be slipping. In a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, only one in three Americans expressed approval for private accounts. The President, for his part, says that he is open to ideas from Congress. But, he cautions, "The longer we wait, the more difficult it [will be] to solve the problem."

Words to Know

* Baby boomer: a member of the generation born in the U.S between 1946 and 1964.

Your Turn


Do you support the creation of private retirement accounts? Why or why not?



* Power, authority, and governance: How and why the U.S. government created the Social Security program, and what changes to its structure are being proposed.

* Individuals, groups, and institutions: Who would be affected by changes to Social Security.



* Morris, Jeffrey, The FDR Way (Great Presidential Decisions Series, Lerner Publishing, 1996). Grades 6-8.

* Swisher, Karin L. (ed.), The Elderly (Opposing Viewpoints series, Thomson Gale, 1990). Grades 6-8.


* Kid FAQs/Social Security Administration

* National Center for Children in Poverty (graphs)

* Decide whether each sentence is true, false, or an opinion. Write your answer on the blank line provided.

--1. The Social Security program began in 1935, when it was signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt.

--2. Social Security benefits go only to people aged 65 or older who are retired.

--3. The baby boomers are nearing retirement age and, in general, people are living longer in the retirement years.

--4. Creating private retirement accounts is the best way to fund future Social Security benefits.

--5. Congress should not change the Social Security program unless it runs out of money.


1. false (by President Franklin D. Roosevelt)

2. false (they are paid. to other people as well, including to children of a working parent who has died or become disabled)

3. True

4. Opinion

5. Opinion
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:NEWS SPECIAL
Author:Cabral, Elena
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 11, 2005
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