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Social Security Earnings Test

December 01, 1991

In response to your editorial, "Why Push Them Out of Work?" Nov. 17:

Social Security is casualty insurance. No loss, no payoff. Your editorial and a related column ("Remove the Hobbles on Senior Workers," by Gary Galles, Column Right, Nov. 18) ignores that fact.

For over half a century, Social Security has promised benefits but not an annuity. Benefits are an "entitlement" only when the worker incurs the risk insured against--in retirement, lost earnings due to actual retirement. The hated earnings test is the mechanism for determining loss.

Those who would eliminate it for senior workers should explain to America's widows and orphans, and to the families of retired and disabled workers, why they should have an earnings test.

All Americans would need to ponder whether the billions of dollars that would flow to non-retired older workers is the best use of trust fund money.

There is a myth that poor older workers are particularly hard hit by the earnings test. Sen. John McCain referred to a 70% tax on a minimum wage earner. In fact, such a worker grosses under $10,000 a year and would lose only a few dollars since the test doesn't even apply to the first $9,720, and then takes only $1 for $3 earned above that floor. The earned income tax credit is another means for protecting the low earner from an unfair burden of the test.

Eliminating the work test will open the system to attack from those who would dismantle the most successful social program in our history. The Times should re-evaluate its decision to endorse an agenda item of those who would fundamentally alter a system that has done its job for decades.

JAMES E. HODGSON, Social Security District Manager, San Bernardino

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