TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Like many Americans, I got my Social Security card when I was a
teenager and applied for my first job. Then, of course, I didn't think much
about what Social Security meant for me or for generations before me. I didn't
understand that my wallet-sized card represented a commitment that every
American could grow old with dignity.
I also didn't understand that Social Security is not just for the
elderly -- and not just for retirement. I didn't know that nearly one-third of
its beneficiaries are either disabled, widows, widowers or surviving
dependents. Almost 4 million are young people. In a very real sense, Social
Security is a family protection system.
When I was a teenager, like many others, I didn't spend much time
thinking about my future, much less about my retirement. Today, sadly, when
young people do take the time to ponder the future, they have little faith that
Social Security will even be there for them when they retire. That's all the
more reason for them to get involved in the debate right away.
This week, the President and I held an event here at the White House
designed to get everyone thinking about Social Security now.
Social Security has affected the lives of people young and old. One
young man from Miami had an incapacitating stroke in his early 30s. Social
Security was there to provide disability benefits for his four children,
enabling them to grow up healthy and cared for. After the death of her husband,
a retired cafeteria worker from Tennessee started receiving his benefits,
allowing her to live more comfortably. A 15-year-old girl from Oklahoma lost
her mother, and Social Security allowed this young woman to continue on to
college, where she's now a sophomore majoring in psychology.
These stories remind us that anyone's life can change overnight and why
it is so important to include young people in the discussion. I hope that young
women in particular will pay attention. Young women today are making such
strides in the workplace, many of them don't think they'll ever need Social
Security. But because we never know when something catastrophic will happen, it
is especially critical for women to understand that they have a unique stake in
the future of the Social Security system.
Women live longer than men, and although many are moving toward pay
equity, lifetime earnings for women remain lower, causing them to reach
retirement with smaller pensions and other financial assets. For a quarter of
all older women, Social Security is the only income they receive -- all that
stands between them and destitution. The next time you're in the supermarket or
just walking down the street, take a look around. Without Social Security,
every other woman you see over the age of 65 would be living below the poverty
Clearly, it's in all our interests to preserve and strengthen Social
Security into the next century. And if we don't want to burden our children and
grandchildren -- if we want to make sure Social Security remains solvent well
into the 21st century -- we must make bold decisions now.
The President believes that the best way to keep the promise of Social
Security rock-solid is to avoid drastic cuts in benefits, not to raise payroll
tax rates and not to drain resources from the system in the name of saving it.
Instead, he has proposed committing 62 percent of the budget surplus for the
next 15 years to saving Social Security.
I am pleased that some Republican leaders have embraced the President's
framework, for this issue is far too important to be sidetracked by partisan
politics. If we want to preserve Social Security as a family protection system
that we can count on into the next millennium, all our voices must be heard.
Republicans and Democrats, men and women, young and old -- all Americans must
be an integral part of the public debate.
I hope every American will get involved. I hope you will take the time
to educate yourself about how Social Security works and what it can mean to
you. I hope you will encourage discussions at home, at work, at church and
anywhere you gather.
Don't forget: Your voice matters. As we embark on this critical
national debate, make yours heard.
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