Correcting the myths on Social Security
As the economy falters and the federal deficit grows, more and more misstatements are being spread about Social Security. Many claim that the program is bankrupt, that benefits must be cut, and that the age for retirement must keep rising.
But in fact, because Social Security has been collecting more in taxes than it has paid out in benefits, it has built up a trust fund of $2.5 trillion. The program has been successful for 75 years, and even if no changes are made, the program could continue to pay full benefits until the year 2037.
Only minor adjustments are required to strengthen Social Security for future generations. First, raise or eliminate the cap that protects all income above $106,800 from paying any Social Security taxes. Second, to correct any shortfall that may occur later in the 21st century, raise the tax by 1% on both employees and employers.
Now is the time to start a grass-roots movement. We need to write to the media and spread the word to emphasize the facts, not the rumors. We need to tell Congress not to submit to baseless scare tactics, but instead to defend Social Security and ensure its continued success.
John Jay (emeritus)
Health insurance: cost & calendar
The November Clarion reminded readers about the important information for choosing health insurance plans, especially when we are not even aware of possible insurance increases that will occur over the upcoming year (“NYC health plan choices: how to weigh possible hikes”). Perhaps CUNY (and New York City) can solve some of the strange aspects of a CUNY health insurance plan where the rates can increase in the middle of the year and the consumer (i.e., the CUNY employee) is responsible to pay for this increase?
First, instead of the current Fall open enrollment period, the open enrollment should instead be in the Spring, a time closer to when the new health insurance contracts are negotiated and major annual price increases go into effect in the summer. Second, CUNY (and New York City) should insist in their contract negotiations with health insurance companies that the cost for health insurance should be the same price during the whole year. There should not be increases occurring in the middle of an annual contract. Is this something that the PSC-CUNY can advocate on behalf of our members?
PSC First Vice President Steve London replies: This is a good idea, and worth consideration – though it would not be simple to arrange.
The costs of higher-premium options under the NYC Heath Benefits Program are set through negotiations between the City of New York and the insurance carriers – and the many unions that make up the Municipal Labor Committee (MLC) can review technical details and offer comment. So coordination among many different players would be required.
Moving the re-opener period or changing the time each year when rates are set could shrink, but not abolish, the gap between rate-setting and the chance to choose a new plan. First, time would still be required to implement any changes in coverage. (Currently, choices made in the November re-opener take effect Jan. 1.) Second, the negotiations between NYC and carriers over new rates, and municipal unions’ opportunity to comment, take some time – usually a little more than a month, but sometimes longer. Some gap in time is thus unavoidable – but the current lag might, for example, be cut in half.
Alternatively, participants might simply be given a one-time ability to opt out of their current plan if, for example, a rate increase exceeds a certain percentage.
So there are many complicating factors, but the basic point remains: it’s a good idea, and deserves discussion. Thanks to Joshua Fogel for raising it.
Students across Europe
In addition to the British students’ militant defense again rising tuition, excellently reported by Steve Leberstein in your December issue, we should also be aware of many other mobilizations against similar austerity measures in Europe.
In Ireland, facing a bleak future of high unemployment, 20,000 young people demonstrated. In Italy, students surrounded the Chamber of Deputies in Rome where a bill on education reform was being debated, blocked trains in Milan, disrupted traffic in cities from Turin in the north to Palermo in the south, occupied the Leaning Tower of Pisa and unfurled a banner from the top, and in Naples, threw rubbish bags at government offices. In Athens, Greece, thousands marched in the streets and several colleges were occupied.
European students’ sense of social justice and their political energy are enviable.
Chair of the PSC International Committee
Exchange on anti-Muslim bias
My colleague Moustafa Bayoumi (“At the center of a sudden storm,” in the December Clarion) seems comfortable discussing the seven interviews that form the body of his book, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? – but he steadfastly refuses to comment on criticisms of his preface and afterword. In particular, his claims that pervasive anti-Muslim abuses were sustained beyond the 9/11 aftermath and are comparable to Japanese internment or the Palmer Raids were based on a gross misrepresentation of his sources.
As I detail elsewhere [see the Manhattan Institute blog, Minding the Campus], Bayoumi selectively presented FBI hate crime statistics, misstated the government’s registry policy, and ignored survey evidence on the experience and outlook of Muslim Americans. He ignored the dramatic decline in anti-Muslim hate crimes, which in 2008 were one-tenth the number experienced by Jewish Americans and one-ninth those experienced by male homosexuals. Bayoumi ignored the Pew Foundation survey results that 90% of young Muslim Americans characterize themselves as very or somewhat happy, that three-quarters of Muslim Americans stated that they have never experienced discrimination, or that 76% of young Muslim Americans believed that if they worked hard they could succeed.
This evidence from the same sources Bayoumi cited are totally at odds with his inflated victimization narrative. It indicates that beyond the serious violation of human rights Muslim Americans experienced in the 9/11 aftermath, anti-Muslim attitudes have not significantly translated into anti-Muslim actions.
Moustafa Bayoumi replies: Robert Cherry distorts my book and mischaracterizes its intentions. He claims, for example, that I equate Japanese internment with anti-Muslim abuses following the September 11 attacks, when in my book I write, “post–September 11 detentions nowhere approximated the scale and suffering of Japanese internment.” (One can compare events without them being “comparable.”) Cherry says I grossly misrepresent statistics to advance an “inflated victimization narrative,” citing the 2007 Pew poll. But a Zogby poll for the Arab American Institute in 2007 found that 76% of young Arab Americans “had personally experienced discrimination.” Regarding anti-Muslim hate crimes, I reported, correctly, that they haven’t receded to pre-9/11 levels and never said they were worse for Muslims than for others. (Cherry contrasts absolute numbers of hate crimes drawn from populations of different sizes, which is just bad statistics; he must also know that local reporting of hate crime statistics to the FBI is voluntary and beset with problems.)
Most importantly, my book isn’t a compendium of statistics and horrors. Nor is it about victims. It’s about the struggles young people have while living through an age when anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment is pervasive and troublingly self-evident. Cherry ignores the many acts of sympathy, kindness, and solidarity found in its pages. By distorting the book’s aims, he ends up denying the obvious problems of today and discounting the human struggles of those who face them.