NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Minority Voters and Social Security Reform

June 24, 2003

Democratic challengers to President Bush have a special obligation to be forthright about Social Security. Why? Because many of the natural constituencies of the Democratic party -- especially minority voters -- have the most to gain from intelligent reform of the system, says Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and John C. Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis.

When Social Security began in 1938, the retirement age was set at 65. But the life expectancy of the average American at birth was only 63 and one-half years. The designers of the system knew some people would do worse and others better. The ones who beat the average and lived to age 65 and beyond were the ones who collected benefits. But most people in 1938 could expect to work and pay Social Security taxes their whole working lives and die before collecting anything.

For African-Americans, the promise of Social Security was even worse.

  • In 1938, the average life expectancy of an African-American was only 53 years.
  • Blacks could expect to pay Social Security taxes throughout their working lives and die 12 years before collecting a dime!

Over the next few years, the retirement age will increase to 67 -- as a result, a black male at birth today can expect to pay Social Security taxes his entire life and collect only a few months of benefits.

According to a National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) study:

  • A 20-year-old black male entering the work force today can expect a return of less than 1 percent on all the taxes he and his employer will pay (in making this calculation, the NCPA considered survivors, in addition to retirement benefits).
  • The rate for white males is not much better, but it is twice the return promised to black males.

Black males are underrepresented among Social Security beneficiaries and overrepresented among Social Security taxpayers, says Alford.

Source: Harry Alford and John C. Goodman, "Social Security anxieties," Washington Times, June 22, 2003.


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