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ORANGE COUNTY VOICES

Entitlement Label Distorts Social Security

September 07, 1997|FRANCIS N. EASTMAN | Francis N. Eastman writes from Costa Mesa

Phil Willon (Commentary: "How About Earning Old-Age Entitlements?" Aug. 25) may not have noticed, but I, and the majority of current Social Security recipients, have earned the benefits we are receiving. During my working career, a portion of my earnings was deducted from my paycheck, added to the contributions of my employer and given to the Social Security Trust Fund.

Both amounts were determined by my actual earnings. Since my contribution was deducted from my paycheck, it came directly from me. I assume that my employer contributed in my behalf because he felt my work was worth what he paid. By my calculations, the amounts that we both contributed are enough to continue my current benefit for the remainder of my expected life, or more.

Although contributions and benefits are both earnings related, the entitlement epithet used by Willon and others is intended to convey the impression that Social Security is a federal giveaway unrelated to earnings. The history of that attitude may be instructive.

Many years ago, in one of its bouts of fiscal insanity, Congress decided that the budget figures would look much better if the Social Security Trust Fund were included in the general fund rather than being a separate, independent fund. This was because the budget was in arrears, but the trust fund had a surplus.

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The Social Security Trust Fund is now accounted independently but remains part of the general fund. Over the years the general budget has gotten worse and the problems have been attributed to Social Security. The entitlement epithet was chosen to pin the problems on Social Security and absolve Congress of its profligacy.

Recent tax reform legislation has reduced the income and capital gains taxes on individuals with high incomes and attempted to reduce the growth of Social Security benefits. They did not reduce Social Security contributions by employees or employers. This has the effect of shifting the burden of government from the income tax to the Social Security tax and blaming the problems on Social Security. This trend will continue as long as the entitlement myth persists.

The meritocracy of Phil Willon would further the notion of Social Security as separate from earnings and place it solidly in the realm of bureaucratic politics. Does Phil really believe that someone who has spent his life working two jobs to support his family, contributing to Social Security and raising his family would qualify for his rating of first-class citizen?

The system he proposes would reward people who have enough to donate most of their time and money to charity. People who rely on Social Security for survival will never have that much time or money.

As for entrance into heaven, tell Phil that St. Peter likes his job.

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