Published in Pawtucket Times, October 4, 2013
For those who view Social Security bennies as just a drain on the nation’s economy, just adding the nation’s spiraling deficit, AARP, the nation’s largest aging advocacy group has always seen it differently. Now, according to a new report, released by AARP’s Public Policy Institute on Oct. 1, 2013, researchers found that for each dollar paid to Social Security beneficiaries generates nearly two dollars in spending by individuals and businesses, adding about $1.4 trillion in total economic output to the U.S. economy in 2012. More over, the report’s findings indicate that $762 billion paid in Social Security benefits in 2012 helped Americans keep or find more than nine million jobs.
If Congress is successful in putting Social Security on the budgetary chopping block, the economy will take a hit, warns the AARP report. According to the reports analysis, “reducing benefits by 25 percent across the board in 2012 (by $190 billion), which the Social Security will project will occur around the year 2033, could cost the U.S. economy about 2.3 million jobs, $349 billion in economic output, about $194 billion in GDP, and about $83 billion in employee compensation.”
A Multiplier Effect When Benefits Spent
The 25 page report, Social Security’s Impact on the National Economy, authored by Gary Koening of AARP’s Public Policy Institute, and Al Myles, of Mississippi State University, details the powerful multiplier effect created when Social Security recipients spend their benefits and the companies which receive those dollars spend their profits and pay their employees, who in turn spend their wages. The report provides both national and state-level data.
The researchers use an economic modeling system known as IMPLAN to calculate the multiplier effect and trace the impact of Social Security spending through the national and state economies.
“This report tells us that any adjustments Washington makes to Social Security will have a profound effect on individuals of all ages, businesses and our economy as a whole,” said AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond. “That’s why AARP is fighting the chained CPI and calling for a national conversation about the future of Social Security – so those who paid into the system can have a voice in the debate and so future generations get the benefits they’ve earned.”
Social Security benefit payments in 2012 supported more than $370 billion in salaries, wages and compensation for workers. Of the more than nine million jobs supported by Social Security spending, about four million were in just ten industries. Nationally, the largest employment impacts were seen in the food services, real estate, health care and retail industries.
In addition to illustrating Social Security’s vital role in supporting national and local economies, jobs and workers’ incomes, this report reiterates the importance of Social Security as a vital source of income for millions of Americans. Social Security benefits keep 22 million people out of poverty, including more than 15 million older Americans, and serve as the foundation of a secure retirement for millions more.
AARP’s Public Policy Institute calls the Social Security Program critical in promoting the income stability among the nation’s seniors, by providing a steady stream of income to replace wages lost due to retirement. “About 1 out of 6 Americans – 57 million people – receive Social Security benefits, including 9 out of the 10 individuals aged 65 and older,” says the Washington, DC-based policy institute.
According to the Social Security Administration, the program is a key source of retirement income for the nation’s retirees, noting that “it is the only inflation-protected, guaranteed income they have. Among the age 65 and over recipients, 23 percent of the married couples and 46 percent of the unmarried couples rely on the program for 90 percent or more of their income. Also, 53 percent of the married couples and 74 percent of those unmarried in this age group receive 50 percent or more of their income from Social Security.
Experts Weighing in on AARP Report
According to Lisa Mensah, Executive Director, of the Aspen Institute’s Initiative on Financial Security, “The AARP study fills a key void in the debate around Social Security. Social Security is not only important for individual financial security but also it has a major impact supporting jobs and economic activity in every state. When weighing Social Security as a budget matter, the fiscal coin has two sides—what it costs and what it delivers—and too often what Social Security delivers for the broader economy is poorly understood.”
Adds, Dean Baker, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research,
“In a context where the economy is below full employment, as is clearly the case today, Social Security provides an important boost to demand. The report it released showed the importance of Social Security in each of the 50 states. When the economy is near full employment, the demand generating by Social Security may not be needed, but for now and the foreseeable future this demand will be providing an important boost to growth.”
Impact on State Economies
The AARP report details the spending of Social Security checks on the economy on all fifty states. Of course, California, the state with the largest economy in the nation, has the largest impact. In this state along, Social Security benefits supported 888,000 jobs, $147.4 billion in output, and $8.7 billion in state and local revenues.
Meanwhile, for the littlest state in the nation, “People need to consider a Rhode Island economy without Social Security benefits,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Could the state live without $2.9 billion a year in federal money being spent on medications, rent, food, utilities, clothing and services?
“When a person spends Social Security benefits, the lawn gets mowed, the driveway gets plowed, CVS sells toilet paper, and the corner market sells milk. Someone gets paid and then spends that money – which means retailers and service providers are getting paid. And then they spend. It’s a cycle, and each step along the way, sales tax is collected by the state – more than $280.7 million,” says Connell. The AARP study shows that this spending supports 33,000 jobs in the Ocean State. So, Social Security makes life better for retirees and people with disabilities, it supports Rhode Island jobs and Rhode Island taxpayers benefit significantly, she says.
“Social Security was engineered with this in mind. The money paid into the system is not doing much if it stays in the Treasury,” observes Connell. “Social Security allows people to live more comfortably, improves their health and quality of life, and benefits the economy,” she adds.
“Seen this way, what would we be saving if we cut Social Security benefits?” quips Connell.
Congressman David Cicilline notes, this report confirms that almost 80 years after it was established, Social Security strengthens Rhode Island’s economy and provides significant benefits for families across this state.” Cicilline, representing the Ocean State’s 1st Congressional District, states that while other lawmakers propose Social Security benefit cuts of one kind or another; he has introduced legislation to protect the program by strongly opposing the use of chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases.
Inside the Washington, DC beltway, Congressional lawmakers continue to seek out ways to rein in rising Social Security program costs. Some call for a combination of reducing program benefits while raising revenues. Others support only benefit cuts warning that raising the payroll tax or bringing other forms of additional revenue would hurt the nation’s fragile economy.
After the Federal Shutdown, when Congress comes back to continue the people’s business and begins to seriously debate policies for reforming Social Security, it becomes crucial for these lawmakers to bring the AARP Policy Institute’s economic impact study findings into their discussions. Slashing benefit checks will hurt financially vulnerable seniors, but as shown by the findings of this recently released report it can also have a drastic impact on fragile state economies by slowing job growth, and reducing retail and other spending, even lowering tax revenues at the local, state and the federal levels.
For a copy of the report, go to http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-09-2013/social-security-impact-on-the-national-economy-AARP-ppi-econ-sec.html.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. His weekly commentaries can be found on his blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.