John Conyers, Jr.
It is important we look back at why we honor the elderly among us for their hard work and wisdom passed down through generations. Since 1963 when President John F. Kennedy led us to officially pay tribute to older citizens, and again in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter changed the name of May to Older Americans Month, we have continued to honor those who are 65 years and older for their many contributions to this great country.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2010 there were more than 40 million citizens in the United States who were 65 years of age or older, some 13 percent of our population. Those numbers are expected to more than double by 2050 as more seniors enjoy their golden years in retirement and collect Social Security. It's important that we mention Social Security because seniors' lives are much different now than they were in the 1930s, when hundreds of thousands of elderly people were forced out of their communities and into state-run "poor houses" because of need, injury, or destitution.
America swore we would never return to those shameful days. When the program was developed in 1935, half of all older Americans in this country lived in poverty. Today, that number is down to 10 percent.
Unfortunately, a small but persistent group of current and former elected officials have been stomping around Washington, D.C., trying to slash Social Security benefits in the name of deficit reduction, including through the failed Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission plan.
Recently, billionaire Peter G. Peterson hosted an ultra-exclusive "Fiscal Summit" in Washington. House Speaker John Boehner attended this event and stated that he endorsed the Bowles-Simpson plan.
The irresponsible Bowles-Simpson plan raises the full retirement age for all Americans to 69, cuts Social Security and Medicare benefits for those left most vulnerable by the Great Recession, and changes the formula that has made our Social Security program stand the test of time.
Social Security has a $2.7 trillion surplus in the Trust Fund and is funded completely by the contributions of hard-working Americans. If it isn't broken, don't break it.
We have a choice in this country of whether we will embrace dismantling our social insurance foundations and return our parents and grandparents to poor houses, or reinforce a system generations of Americans built from the ground up.
Our founding fathers and mothers passed down to us a Constitution that has stood the test of time and a country that has seen war, hard times and triumph,while building a sense of resiliency. These are values that Republicans and Democrats share and must remember going forward, because they are values older Americans cherish too.
Previous generations invested in and maintained our Social Security system during their lifetimes, and now it is our turn. Presidents from Roosevelt to Reagan did their part to create and sustain the New Deal. Now, it's is our turn to maintain the system, not to turn it over to reckless Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who would gamble away this critical source of retirement security.
Older Americans can give us a glimpse not only into our pasts, but also into the kind of future we want to create for our children and grandchildren. As we honor them, let's recommit ourselves to strengthening and preserving Social Security for future generations.
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