Needed now: a national retirement security program

An autoworker we know is facing the possible slashing of his General Motors pension, earned in decades of work. Even with the full pension and his Social Security check, this 79-year-old retiree can barely cover his basic monthly bills.

A steelworker we know had his pension, earned in 30 years in the mills, gutted by a Bush-appointed manager of the federal agency that is supposed to protect pensions when companies go bankrupt. He is struggling to get by.

A teacher worries about how she will live when she retires in a few years, after a lifetime teaching in urban public schools. Her state is one of 14 that do not provide Social Security coverage for teachers, under federal law allowing states to exclude state and local government employees.

She is among the approximately 25 percent of state and local government employees and retirees (including police and fire department employees and others) who have been excluded from Social Security coverage by their states. These workers have to depend on state retirement systems whose funds — unlike the federally guaranteed Social Security fund — are invested on Wall Street and could be in jeopardy as a result of the current financial crisis.

And a maintenance worker we know is collecting Social Security — he has no other pension — but it’s only a few hundred dollars a month, not enough to live on. He has serious health issues, but is forced to keep working part-time to be able to pay his bills.

Something is wrong with this picture.

Our country is now coming to recognize that health care is a basic human necessity that should not depend on what employer you work for, or whether you are employed or not, or whether you are rich or poor. With a broad movement fighting for a national, public program to ensure quality, affordable health coverage for everyone, there is a real possibility to win such a program this year.

We need to build a similar movement for a national, guaranteed retirement program. It should expand Social Security to cover everyone and boost the benefits to provide real retirement security. The money is there. Right now, unlike most of us, billionaires and millionaires pay zero to Social Security from the bulk of their incomes. So just start from the top.

Retirement security for all — needed now.