The September 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes

Wave of Murders of Homeless Are A Warning Sign

Bumfights: An Incitement to Hate Crimes

Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA

Brazil Murders of Homeless Go Unsolved

Social Security Is NOT in Crisis

Time for Health Care for All

Cindy Sheehan's Unanswerable Question

Lawsuit Against California Hotel

Tribute to the Love Lotus Gave

A Mother's Plea for Homeless Son

Poor Leonard's Almanack: Carl G. Jung

Sept. Poetry of the Streets


August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Social Security Is Not In Crisis

In pushing to privatize Social Security, the Bush Administration has tried to create a climate of fear about the future of the program.

by Rick Wilson, American Friends Service Committee

The American Friends Service Committee held a 70th birthday party for Social Security on August 14, 2005. At right, Alice Hoffman lights a candle honoring the women kept out of poverty by Social Security (half of all unmarried women over age 65).

Are you scared yet? In pushing to privatize Social Security, the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress have continually tried to create a climate of fear about the future of the program. The goal seems to be to create and exploit a wedge between generations of Americans.

In speech after speech around the country, President Bush has warned younger workers that they will lose benefits unless we act now to drastically change and privatize the system. In May, Bush told a Milwaukee audience, "Now, if you're a senior, you have nothing to worry about because it's got plenty of money for you. But if you're a young worker, a young entrepreneur, a young mom paying into the system, you're paying into a bankrupt system unless the United States Congress decides to act." In other words, we're in a crisis!

To be fair, the administration is partially right. We are facing several crises in America right now -- it's just that Social Security isn't one of them:

1. We have a health-care crisis, with more than 45 million uninsured Americans. The situation is likely to get worse as federal and state governments slash Medicaid and as corporations cut back on benefits to workers and retirees.

2. We have a job insecurity crisis, with 7.5 million Americans unemployed and many more who are underemployed, earn low wages and get few if any benefits.

3. We have a housing insecurity crisis. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, more than 94 million people in the U.S. live in unaffordable or inadequate housing.

4. Things aren't going that great in Iraq either.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a lot of positive action to address these crises. By comparison, the problems of Social Security are pretty mild.

The system will be fine for the next 35 to 50 years. At that point, if nothing at all is done between now and then, guaranteed benefits will have to be reduced by 20 to 25 percent. Privatization schemes such as the "progressive" price indexing supported by the president or similar recent congressional efforts would result in even more drastic guaranteed benefit cuts for most Americans.

Modest steps, such as raising the $90,000 income cap on payroll taxes, would protect the program and eliminate the need for any cuts for many years to come.

This country doesn't need another war, much less a war between the generations. Playing on the financial fears of younger workers hides some important facts about Social Security.
About one-third of Social Security benefits go to nonretirees, including injured or disabled workers, and their families, as well as the surviving spouses and children of deceased workers.

Privatization schemes are likely to drastically change Social Security disability payments for younger workers who need them. Social Security even supports more children than TANF, the federal welfare program explicitly designed for low-income children and parents.
Saying that Social Security won't be there for younger Americans is misleading. It's already there for them.

In fact, the guaranteed benefits of Social Security retirement will be even more important to younger workers, who often have little or no savings and face heavy debts. According to an article from the Christian Science Monitor, the current generation "may be the most indebted generation of young Americans ever."

To make matters worse, younger workers are less likely to have pensions from their employers. Fewer employers today provide pensions to employees and even fewer offer pensions with defined benefits. The AFL-CIO reports that the number of defined-benefit plans dropped from 128,041 plans covering 41 percent of private-sector workers in 1978 to 26,000 plans today. Only about 21 percent of private-sector workers are now covered by defined-benefit pension plans.

More than half of all private-sector workers have no pensions at all and many who do are only covered by 401(k)-type savings accounts, which shift the risk to individual workers and cut costs to corporations.

If anything, younger workers have more of a stake in protecting Social Security from privatization than older Americans. Scare tactics designed to create a stampede to privatization are a dead end. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose administration created Social Security, was right: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Social Security: An Irreplaceable Part of the Safety Net

by the American Friends Service Committee

A cake at the AFSC birthday party said: "Social Security: Celebrating 70 Years of Guaranteed Benefits, August 14, 1935-2005."

Social Security is a vitally effective public program that benefits all of us. Despite the myth of an urgent funding "crisis," Social Security can pay all promised benefits until at least the year 2052 and most benefits after that, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. There is more than enough time to make the system even stronger without undermining it through privatization.

Meanwhile, the United States faces a real economic insecurity crisis today.

The healthcare insecurity crisis: The Census Bureau reports that more than 45 million Americans had no health insurance at any time in 2003. States are slashing Medicaid benefits or dropping coverage for many who need it. People who are uninsured "suffer worse health and die sooner," says the Institute of Medicine.

The job insecurity crisis: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.5 million Americans are unemployed. Millions of workers have lost jobs to the global economy or struggle to make ends meet at poverty-wage jobs.

The housing insecurity crisis: One-third of the U.S. population has inadequate, unaffordable, or no housing, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reports. Nearly a million men, women, and children are homeless on any night.

With the right priorities, our nation can strengthen Social Security even further into the future and provide affordable health care, housing, and living-wage jobs.

Rolling back the cap on Social Security taxes for people earning over $90,000 would eliminate any future Social Security shortfall. Repealing tax breaks for the wealthiest one percent of households would provide much-needed revenues to solve today's job, healthcare, and housing crises.

Social Security: a moral issue

Social Security was created in 1935 during the Great Depression because President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Congress recognized that government has a moral obligation to provide for the common good of its citizens.

Social Security is one of our most successful government programs. It provides steady income in retirement and helps keep millions of retirees, workers with disabilities, and their families out of poverty.

About one in six Americans receives a Social Security benefit today. It's not just a retirement program; more than a third of Social Security beneficiaries are disabled workers, dependents, and survivors. About four million children will receive benefits this year. Social Security is the major source of income for two out of three seniors, and the only source of income for one out of five seniors.

Social Security is one of our nation's most successful anti-poverty programs. Without it, more than half of women age 65 and older would be living in poverty. It's also extremely important for African American men and women and Latinos and Latinas, among other minority groups. Without Social Security, the official poverty rate among African Americans would almost triple, from 22 to 64 percent. Among Latinos and Latinas, the poverty rate would rise from 18 to 51 percent.

Although sometimes Social Security is painted as an issue affecting only senior citizens, young, middle-aged, and older people must work together to preserve it. Social Security is an intergenerational issue. It helps young people in at least three ways. First, many young people receive benefits today as family members of retired, disabled, or deceased workers. Second, it will help young workers who become disabled before reaching their own retirement age. Third, Social Security will help young workers weather an insecure job market by providing guaranteed retirement, disability, and survivor protection.

The reality is that fighting to protect Social Security is a way to have a broader conversation about the role that stakeholders in our government -- that's us -- have in creating a country where everyone gets a fair shake economically.

The attack on Social Security is part of a broader plan to gut public funding of public education, housing, healthcare, and more. Dozens of programs are at risk in this year's federal budget, which Congress will be debating in September.

If those opposed to a strong role for the federal government are successful in picking off Social Security, the most successful government program with the most participants, how can we stand a chance in struggles around Section 8 housing, Medicaid, food stamp and TANF?
We call on Congress to keep Social Security as a universal public insurance program.

Proposals to privatize it would destroy the compact the generations make with each other. We also call on Congress to adopt a moral budget that fully funds human needs programs sustained by a fair tax policy. As a compassionate society, we must do no less.

Join AFSC's SOS! campaign to strengthen Social Security and to stop privatization. Tell Congress to focus on people's real problems instead of the myth of a Social Security crisis. Learn more at

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