Scare stories about missing trust funds and greedy, golf-playing "geezers" are undermining public support for Social Security, says Social Security Commissioner Gwendolyn King.
King said Tuesday she is dismayed by critics who contend the Social Security system is bankrupt or claim that every dollar spent on the elderly is a dollar taken away from needy children."Who has decided that Congress must choose between the elderly and children?" she asked the National Press Club.
King insisted that Social Security is in "superb shape" financially and will have a surplus of $336 billion by the end of 1992.
"We need to do away with this notion that the federal government has raided the trust funds and cleaned them out. It's an outright falsehood, " she said.
She said the Social Security surplus - to be used when the baby boomers retire in the next century - is invested in government bonds backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States.
"It will be 25 years before we begin to need to use the interest on the trust funds to pay benefits," she said, "and 35 years before we need to use the trust funds themselves."
In the meantime, she said, the government will have "ample time" to replace the money it currently is borrowing from the Social Security trust funds to pay other expenses.
King said there are three "popular myths" about Social Security that must be challenged:
- The idea being sold to younger workers that Social Security will not be there when they need it.
- The idea that blacks should not pay into Social Security because many don't live long enough to collect benefits.
- The idea that needy children can't be helped unless we cut down Social Security and other programs for the elderly.
"The sky is not falling. We have time to meet our Social Security commitments in the 21st century without penalizing either workers or retirees," she said.
King said she is opposed to cutting off Social Security benefits for wealthy retirees. "Social Security is not and should not be a means-tested program," she said.
She conceded that black men often die or become disabled before reaching retirement age, but she noted that Social Security pays billions of dollars each year in disability and survivors benefits.
The poverty rate for persons over 65 was 12.2 percent in 1990, while the poverty rate for children under 18 was 20.6 percent, but King denied that most retirees are "greedy geezers."
"The image of pensioners on the golf course is not based on reality," she said. "For the majority of senior citizens, that Social Security check each month gets used for food and utilities and rent."