Ahead of Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren rolled out an ambitous new plan to address one of the nation’s most intractable problems — the future of Social Security.
Warren’s proposal would increase benefits by $200 a month for Social Security recipients and extend the program’s solvency by two decades through increased contribution requirements on the top two percent of earners.
“I’ve dedicated most of my career to studying what’s happening to working families in America. One thing is clear: it’s getting harder to save enough for a decent retirement,” Warren wrote in a post on the website Medium on Thursday. “As a result, Social Security has become the main source of retirement income for most seniors.”
Warren proposed to pay for the plan by boosting the Social Security contributions — effectively a tax increase — of those making more than $250,000 a year. She cited an analysis from Moody’s Analytics that found the benefits hike would lift 4.9 million seniors out of poverty immediately.
The Cambridge Democrat’s proposal comes as she takes the presidential primary debate stage with former Vice President Joe Biden for the first time Thursday night in Houston. Biden has reportedly signaled that will argue that the next Democratic nominee should offer “more than plans,” a jab at Warren for the numerous detailed policy proposals at the heart of her campaign.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are considering their own legislation that would extend Social Security’s solvency and increase benefits with tax increases on wealthy and middle income earners, according to the Wall Street Journal. If nothing is done, Social Security and Medicare trust funds would be depleted by 2035, causing benefits to be reduced.
Warren argues that skyrocketing income inequality in recent decades has resulted in lower income workers paying a higher share of their wages into Social Security than wealthy Americans.
The 12.4 percent payroll tax — split evenly between workers and employers — that funds Social Security only applies to wages up to $132,900 this year. After reaching that cap, which increases annually based on average national wage growth, a worker’s earnings are not subject to the Social Security tax.
“While most American workers contribute to Social Security with every dollar they earn, CEOs and other very high earners contribute to Social Security on only a fraction of their pay,” she wrote.
Warren’s plan would impose a new 14.8 percent payroll tax on wages over $250,000, to be split evenly between employers and employees. Her proposal also would impose a 14.8 percent tax on net investment income for those making more than $250,000.
Warren also wants to close loopholes that exempt certain types of income from being counted by the government for Social Security tax purposes.
In addition to increasing benefits by $200 a month, Warren’s plan would try to close a gap in benefits between men and women and guarantee a larger minimum benefit for very low wage workers. To do this, Warren would add a Social Security credit for people who take time off work for unpaid caregiving, which she argues would help women and low-income people who are more likely to leave the workforce to care for children or aging relatives.
“In part because of work and pay discrimination and time out of the workforce to provide care for children and elderly relatives, women receive an average monthly Social Security benefit that’s only 78% of the average monthly benefit for men,” Warren wrote.
Warren’s plan would also allow public sector workers to receive full Social Security benefits by repealing provisions that ban some retirees from collecting both Social Security and a public pension.
“It’s time Washington stopped trying to slash Social Security benefits for people who’ve earned them,” she wrote.