December 07, 2012 | BY NORMAN AND VELMA
SOCIAL SECURITY, Medicare, and Medicaid are the
foundations for the well-being of scores of
millions of middle- and low-income Americans.
Without Social Security, 14 million more
low-income Americans would be living in
poverty. Because of Medicare, 33 million older
people live longer, have access to quality
care, and are not driven into poverty by
rapidly rising health-care costs. Medicaid is a
health-care boon to Americans not yet eligible
for Medicare, which covers some 60 million
Because of historical and
lingering discrimination, racial minorities in
particular need these programs. Overall, they
have less income and fewer assets than whites,
so a higher percentage of their retirement
income comes from Social Security benefits.
Also, because they more often have physically
demanding jobs, they rely more on Social
Security disability and require more health
care after retirement. If there were no such
support, the proportion of impoverished,
elderly African-Americans would rise to 62
percent from 24 percent, and for Hispanics, 61
percent from 19 percent.
disproportionate dependence on these programs
has grown as the wealth gap (income and assets)
between whites and minorities has grown. From
2005 to 2009 wealth fell by 66 percent among
Latino households, 53 percent among black
households, and 54 percent among Asians,
compared to 16 percent among whites.
this statistically and experientially. We are
black and have spent most of our lives in the
American civil-rights and labor movements.
2010 survey found that 86 percent of whites and
92 percent of blacks believe Social Security
benefits are worth the cost. A recent poll
revealed that, by a 51 percent to 33 percent
margin, Americans think that preserving
Medicare as is outweighs reducing the deficit.
A new survey found that only 13 percent of
Americans favor major changes to
Republicans have ginned up a lot
of concern about a so-called fiscal crisis.
Since the emergence in 2010 of "tea party"
organizations, their condemnations of budget
deficits have become almost hysterical. But
there is no fiscal crisis. Right's right: No.
In this period of economic
downturn, deficit spending is actually a
stimulant that the economy needs. The "debt
crisis" isn't fiscal; it's a political mirage,
a smokescreen used by right-wingers to justify
cuts in social insurance.
take the lead in opposing those cuts,
particularly through their social
organizations, trade unions, and their
ethnic-based groups. Their greatest allies are
Social Security does
not contribute to the deficit. Its payouts come
from Social Security tax revenues and interest
from safe, conservative investments.
Furthermore, even if nothing is done, Social
Security can continue meeting 100 percent of
its obligations until 2036. Solvency could be
extended decades further by modest reforms like
raising the cap on taxable income for Social
Security from its current $110,100 and by
gradually increasing the Social Security
payroll tax by 1/20 of 1 percent (0.05) over 20
years. The eligibility age increases and
benefit cuts proposed by Republicans are
Medicare, it is true,
faces more serious challenges. But it is not
going bankrupt, and prudent reforms - not
radical changes - can extend its fiscal health
well into the future. Republicans say that
increased life expectancy and the surge in
retiring baby-boomers make benefit cuts and
increases in age eligibility a
On the contrary, the main cause
of increased Medicare costs is soaring
health-care inflation, which can be contained.
President Obama's Affordable Care Act promotes
preventive care by providing free screenings
for early disease detection and by offering
community-based prevention grants. It also
promotes a policy of payment for results rather
than by the numbers of procedures performed.
Additionally, its Independent Payment Advisory
Board will help detect potential cost savings.
Significant cost reductions could also be made
if Medicare were allowed to bargain with
pharmaceutical companies over drug
Despite overwhelming public
opposition to social-program cuts, and despite
the Democratic victory in November, Republicans
continue to press their attack, now using the
"fiscal cliff" to attack social spending. The
cliff, as you know, refers to legislatively
mandated tax hikes and spending cuts of a
drastic nature that will take effect after Dec.
31 unless Congress acts to cut the deficit.
According to some (but not all) economists, the
automatic hikes and cuts will lead to a new
Whatever compromises must be
made, the president must draw a red line
against reduced benefits in basic entitlements.
He must stick to his campaign pledge to let the
Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire and to
find ways to cut expenditures that do not hurt
the most vulnerable.
Norman Hill was the
staff coordinator of the 1963 March on
Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He is
president emeritus of the A. Philip Randolph
Institute. Velma Hill is a former vice
president of the American Federation of
Teachers and the former civil- and human-
rights director of the Service Employees