Why Social Security reform affects students - now


by MICHAEL CARNUCCIO

Tulsa World

It's a sad fact that more of today's young Americans believe in the existence UFOs than in the future existence and promised benefits of Social Security. In spite of that fact, or perhaps because of it, our generation has chosen to remain on the sidelines of the national debate with a deep, quiet skepticism.

Concern for our generation is often voiced by politicians who speak in parables about, "the need to save this institution for our children and grandchildren." In reality, it makes a good sound bite. When it comes down to it, nobody really cares about our future retirement but us and we aren't saying enough.

As college students, we are preparing to make our contributions to society. Soon entering the workplace, we will begin saving for our future retirement through our mandatory payments into Social Security. Most of us who have worked know it as the FICA tax deducted from every paycheck. These contributions will be siphoned into a trust fund that lacks "trust" and is not really a "fund" because it pays for other government programs. To make matters worse, The Supreme Court has ruled that Congress has no legal obligation to pay us back.

True, the future of Social Security is not sexy. Our spokesperson is not Checotah native and American Idol Carrie Underwood, but a man most young people find hard to relate to -- President Bush. Couple this with the confusing nature of the topic and most of us tune it out. Big mistake.

This is exactly what opponents of reform are relying on; that our lack of attention and apathy towards Social Security or our avoidance of what seems like such a distant concern will allow our leaders to make these decisions for us without any pressure to do what is right. In recent polls and on campuses, this is beginning to change. Students and other young Americans are waking up and speaking out.

Social Security reform is of vital and immediate importance to us. It directly affects the ability of employers to hire us as we graduate, our opportunity to save for our future and the economic growth and prosperity of our country in the years ahead.

Increasing payroll taxes to cover Social Security's future shortfall, as some members of both parties have advocated, will burden employers with additional costs and hinder their ability to hire us when we graduate. And for those of us who do find employment, our salaries will be smaller, handicapping our ability to save for retirement.

Declining employment and reduced salaries that will result in an anemic economy will be the fate of our generation without action. Genuine reform of Social Security, by curbing the growth of promised benefits and by introducing personal accounts, will increase national savings by billions of dollars each year, spurring significant increases in national investment, productivity, wages and jobs.

Harvard economist Martin Feldstein estimates that Social Security reform would add $10 trillion to $20 trillion to our economy, something that would create at least a million new jobs for us as we enter the work force and potentially increase our incomes by $5,000 for a family of four.

I pay into the system. I want my retirement. Time is not on our side; the longer we wait, the more difficult reform becomes.

Michael Carnuccio is a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University's political science master's program. The former political science professor of American Government is active in public affairs issues across Oklahoma. Carnuccio is a Team NCPA state advisory board member and a national coordinator for Students for Saving Social Security.