Not Just a Retirement Program: Social Security Is a Civil Rights Issue

Media 04.25,05

Washington, DC – Today, as the Senate Finance Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on Social Security, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) is launching a campaign to protect Social Security from privatization and painful potential benefit cuts. LCCR, the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, is joined by LULAC, the NAACP and its College & Youth Division, the National Council on Independent Living and the National Partnership for Women & Families at a news conference on Capitol Hill in launching the new national campaign.

“Protecting Social Security from the President’s high risk privatization scheme is critical because it is one of our nation’s most fundamental civil rights programs,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of LCCR. “Privatization will effectively discriminate against women, Americans with disabilities and minorities by denying them a secure retirement. It will play roulette with the welfare and retirement security of more than 47 million retirees. We will not stand by and let the President undermine the retirement security that so many Americans have spent their whole lives working for or allow cuts to programs that so many Americans count on to make ends meet.”

Although privatization will have disastrous effects on all Americans, racial and ethnic minorities, Americans with disabilities, women and children will be particularly hard hit. Social Security’s progressive benefit structure provides the greatest support to low-wage and part-time workers, who are more likely to be minorities, Americans with disabilities and women. The president’s privatization scheme would lead to crippling benefit cuts and would push many low-income retirees into poverty and debt.

  • Privatization would rob women and children of security. Debra L. Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women & Families explained, “Women are already disadvantaged in retirement because we are paid less, live longer, assume more care-giving responsibilities and are less likely than men to have private pensions. Women rely heavily on Social Security. We are three in five recipients. More than half of older women would be poor without their Social Security benefits.”

  • Privatization is a gamble the Latino community cannot afford. “Private accounts made up of stocks and bonds are a risky investment – not a secure insurance policy,” said Brent Wilkes, the executive director of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “Latino families cannot be placed at risk and we cannot support any project that jeopardizes Social Security. Not only is it a retirement insurance that is a pillar of the middle-class way of life, but it accounts for the disadvantaged – the lost, least and forgotten.”

  • Privatization would lead to deep benefit cuts that would hurt workers with disabilities and their families. John Lancaster, the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) explained, “More than seven million Social Security checks go to people with disabilities and their families to help them live and work independently. NCIL believes that the proposed private accounts could result in major benefit cuts, massive new government borrowing, and could destroy the social insurance system designed to reduce risk from certain life events.”

  • Privatization would put African Americans at risk. Hilary Shelton, the Washington Director of the NAACP explained, “All three Social Security programs – retirement, disability and survivors’ benefits – are disproportionately important to the economic survival of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minority Americans. Americans of color have traditionally been at the low end of the earning scale over our lifetimes. We are historically more apt to have pursued physically demanding jobs in our lifetimes, and as such have a lower life expectancy and a higher rate of disability than the average American.”

“Social Security is so much more than a retirement program,” said Henderson. “It is the only source of income for four out of ten older African Americans and Latinos, it prevents one out of two women over the age of 65 from slipping into poverty and enables 7 million Americans with disabilities and their families to live independently. We shouldn’t be gambling with America’s future, tossing our hard earned retirement into private accounts that may or may not give us and our families the security we need. The President’s privatization scheme would gut survivor and disability programs, leave our retirement security to chance and undermine one of our country’s single most important civil rights programs.”