American crisis

Our American society values hard work and assumes lower and middle class workers can retire with confidence. Our Western culture respects the maturity of elders and wishes to provide for them. Our capitalistic economic principles strive to maximize competition and efficiency. Our democratic political system guides politicians to please constituents while making the best policy decisions for the entire country. A true American crisis is one that plunges these ideals into conflict.

Because this issue threatens economic standards, societal mores, and political objectives, I feel that Social Security reform is the most important domestic issue facing my generation. Economically, Social Security is a flawed concept. Many people don’t quite understand that little column on their pay stub for FICA tax. Nearly all of my peers assume that Social Security is like a savings account — money they give now is set aside for them when they retire. Unfortunately, the truth is that taxes from TODAY’S young workers cover benefits for TODAY’S retirees. The money for the federal Social Security system goes out as quickly as it comes in.

This won’t work forever. Life expectancy is increasing, while birth rates are declining. As recently as 1950,there were 16 workers for every Social Security beneficiary. Today there are only 3. 3. By 2025,there will be fewer than two. The Social Security pyramid is unsustainable. In recent years, personal fiscal responsibility has become increasingly popular. In fact, I first became interested in this issue when attending a forum about investing. The event was hosted by Senator Bob Kerrey and billionaire Warren Buffett to encourage youth to plan for their financial futures.

I had never been interested in the economic realm before, but this exposure heightened my interest. I recognized that I needed to start planning for my future and have concern for those who have not planned for their own futures. The notion of Social Security reform was introduced and I began to read extensively about the topic. I realized that many individuals in our society don’ t understand the purpose of the stock market or the workings of our economy, but simply assume comfortable retirement is a fact of life. Social values conflict with a lack of economic knowledge.

Living in a country still heavily influenced by the “ New Deal” programs, many Americans also assume government should play a role in providing for that stable future. This is not a certainty though, simply a modern paradigm. Politically, Social Security has traditionally been a third-rail issue. An unspoken Washington rule seems to be that Social Security is a taboo topic that ought to be left alone. Recently, this has began to soften. Last spring I watched CNN intently as Senator Kerrey and President Clinton co-hosted a town forum in Kansas City regarding Social Security reform.

My passion for change was growing. When I was chosen to represent Nebraska at Girls Nation in Washington, D. C. I instantly knew what topic to focus my legislation on. I read conflicting views from the CATO Institute, the Social Security administration, and the AARP. Finally, I accessed the Senate website where I found the Social Security reform plan proposed by Senators Bob Kerrey (D-NE) and Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). I waded through the pages of legal and legislative jargon until I found issues that caught my eye. I condensed and revised parts of the plan into a bill that I presented at Girls Nation.

It was placed sixth on the senate docket and, after thoughtful debate, passed to final reading. On the last day of Girls Nation I watched in amazement as my bill on Social Security reform was presented in a packet to President Clinton. Although the challenges of this problem are daunting, I feel that my generation can solve this crisis. Numerous economic solutions to the problem are feasible including raising the retirement age, increasing taxes, lowering benefits, privatizing investments or eliminating the taxable ceiling on income.

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