Social Security

Should we keep our current social security system? End it, expand it?By
cover icon for Social SecurityAttribution: Midjourney


Social Security is a government-run insurance program that provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to all American families. The program, established in 1935 as part of the New Deal, has become one of the most well-known social programs ever to exist. However, the Social Security system has also been the subject of continuous debate.

Pro Social Security

One of the main reasons why Social Security is necessary is that it helps to reduce poverty and inequality. The program is the largest source of income for most elderly Americans, and it helps to lift millions of seniors out of poverty. Without Social Security, the poverty rate for seniors would rise by around 50%.

For many Americans, Social Security is a central component of their retirement planning It provides a guaranteed benefit that is not subject to the vicissitudes of the stock market or the health policies of an employer. This stability is essential in times of economic uncertainty and helps millions of Americans feel confident about retiring.

In addition, Social Security is necessary because it helps to ensure that even the poorest among us have access to basic care. The program is progressive, providing a higher benefit to low-income workers—and is largely subsidized by the extremely wealthy. This helps to ensure that all Americans have at least some financial security in their retirement years.

Finally, we should keep Social Security because it is efficient and cost-effective. The program has administrative costs that are a fraction of those of private sector pension plans, and by spreading the costs of retirement across all workers and generations, Social Security helps to ensure that the burden of supporting seniors is shared fairly.

Against Social Security

Firstly, private sector pension plans, such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), could be more efficient than the publically-subsidized Social Security system. They argue that these plans allow individuals to have more control over their retirement savings and investments rather than relying on a government-run program.

Secondly, the Social Security system is not economically sustainable in the long term. This is because given current trends, the Social Security system won't be able to pay out to everyone in the future. Many believe that eliminating the program would allow for the development of a more financially stable retirement system. In particular, they say that the current system relies on younger generations to pay for the benefits of older generations — a model which will fail with population change.

Lastly, the Social Security system is unfair to certain groups, such as higher-income earners, who pay a larger share of the program's taxes. They argue that eliminating the program would allow for the development of free-market alternatives that don't punish high-income Americans.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the main arguments for and against maintaining the current Social Security system?
  • How has the Social Security program evolved over time, and what changes have been made to address financial sustainability concerns?
  • What role do private sector pension plans, such as 401(k)s and IRAs, play in the retirement landscape, and how do they compare to the Social Security system?
  • What are the potential consequences of eliminating the Social Security program, both for individuals and society as a whole?
  • How can the Social Security system be reformed to address financial sustainability concerns while maintaining its effectiveness as a source of retirement income?
  • What are the implications of the Social Security program for intergenerational fairness, and how can the program be designed to address these concerns?
  • How does the Social Security program in the United States compare to retirement systems in other countries, and what can be learned from these comparisons?
  • What are the potential unintended consequences of alternative approaches to retirement security, such as relying more heavily on private-sector pension plans or individual savings and investments?
  • How can policymakers balance individual responsibility and collective support in designing the retirement system?

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