Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Ezekiel Emanuel's Plan to Share the Wealth: Go After the Social Security of School Teachers and Firefighters

Ohanian Comment: Excuse me, Mr. Emanuel. I am a senior citizen. I don't "collect" any money from Medicare. I pay several thousands of dollars a year [in addition to what I had withdrawn from my check every month when I was working) for Medicare help in medical bills. Physicians collect those monies.

You keep writing about the "tens of thousands" a senior gets each year. The maximum amount for a worker retiring at age 66 in 2012, is $2,513 per month. Most of us get far less. That's not a whole lot of "tens of thousands" a year.

According to the U. S. Census , median income of households with individuals 65 and older was $31,354, a whole lot lower than what you claim.

The poor need help. With all the wealth on Wall Street, I don't think this help needs to come from robbing the elderly.

Reader Comment: We could insist that the top 1% pay their fair share of taxes and use those monies to improve the lot of poor children; perhaps we might even reduce the Pentagon budget by, for example, closing down military bases in Europe or eliminating outlays for unneeded weapons systems, and direct those saved dollars to provide a decent shot at life for the families of these children. That is a sacrifice we could believe in.

Ezekiel Emanuel's Plan to Share the Wealth: Go After the Social Security of School Teachers and Firefighters

by Dean Baker

I'm not kidding. We have boys and girls on Wall Street making tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars at banks that enjoy taxpayer subsidies through "too big to fail" insurance. But Ezekiel Emanuel's "share the wealth" NYT blogpost tells us how we can tap the Social Security and Medicare benefits of people who earned $70,000 a year during their working lifetime to make the poor better off.

It's amazing how much effort the Washington gang goes through to nail workers who earned slightly more than the average, while doing its best to ignore the millionaires and the billionaires who have been the big winners in the economy over the last three decades.

Share the Wealth

By Ezekiel J. Emanuel


WE'RE always saying that "children are our nation's most valuable resource."

Unfortunately, we don't behave as if we believe it. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of children living in poverty in America increased by 41 percent, and now includes nearly one-quarter of our kids. Growing up in poverty is bad. It leads to lower graduation rates (a third of these children will not graduate from high school); lower incomes (nearly half will still be living in poverty at age 35); and lower life expectancy (by about eight years).

The story of older Americans is completely different. In 1959, over a third of those over age 65 were poor; today, only 9 percent are. Contrary to campaign rhetoric about old ladies on fixed incomes, many Social Security recipients are quite well-to-do: the median income of married couples between the ages of 65 and 69 is $61,000, and a quarter of these households bring in more than $100,000 each year.

The rising standard of living among older Americans is largely a result of the tens of thousands of dollars each collects from Social Security and Medicare. And this huge transfer of wealth is harming our children.

Older Americans aren't selfish. Many would be willing to forgo some of their government benefits, if only they could be sure the money would go to a worthy cause. However, in the current system, giving up a Social Security check or Medicare benefits seems completely irrational. The money disappears into a bureaucratic black hole. No one will ever know if it reduced the budget deficit or allowed the government to invest in something else, like education.

But what if an older person could forgo their benefits for something specific, to help America's youth in a tangible and personally meaningful way -- by, for instance, paying for their grandchildren's child care or education? Policy makers just need to find a way to tap into the willingness of these people to make sacrifices. Here is an idea that might be a solution: create the Children's Opportunity Bequest and Fund.

In the Children's Opportunity Bequest, older Americans could agree to forgo Social Security or Medicare benefits for one to three years -- to start getting benefits at 66, 67 or 68 instead of 65. (They would then begin receiving Social Security benefits at the normal retirement age level, that is, without delayed retirement credits.) They could designate that the money saved -- amounting on average to tens of thousands of dollars a year -- be targeted for use by their very own grandchildren or any specific child identified by their Social Security number.

We know that early childhood education and high-quality day care are the best ways to improve the chances of poor children. They produce extraordinary returns in the form of reduced crime rates, higher educational attainment, higher incomes, more stable families and better health -- benefits that will be passed on to following generations. So perhaps the money could be devoted to the education of children under age 5, to pay for pre-kindergarten, nursery school or day care.

Another option would be to use the money to pay for parental leave, allowing a parent to stop working -- or work only part time -- to spend a year or more raising his or her child, without burdening employers.

It is essential that these bequests don't exacerbate inequality by just further enriching well-off children. To that end, we could also establish a Children's Opportunity Fund, the proceeds of which would support the early childhood education of a randomly chosen newborn from a family below the poverty line. Older people with lifetime earnings in the top quarter could still pass their benefits to their own grandchildren or a child of their choice, but they would have to match every dollar they donate with a dollar to the fund. Those without grandchildren under age 5 could also choose to contribute to this fund. We could arrange for the donors to be paired with children in their ZIP code or a neighboring one. This way the benefits would enhance the opportunity of children within the senior's own community. The government could even connect the donor with the child's parents. Who knows where such personal connections might lead?

We would have to be certain that the bequests were free of waste and abuse, and so there would need to be stringent quality standards for the various education and child care programs. Similarly, we might allow a maximum of two grandparents to donate to the children in any particular family. And finally, we would limit the donations to three years, to make sure the older people themselves aren't abused or taken advantage of by younger generations.

We are unlikely to know how many older Americans would volunteer to help "our nation's most valuable resource" by donating their Social Security or Medicare benefits until we try it. But because the Children's Opportunity Bequest and Fund is budget neutral - it would help children without adding to the federal debt or consuming limited state dollars - there is little risk in establishing it. Only then might we actually start practicing what we preach about our children and grandchildren.

The author has two younger brothers: Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, also former White House Chief of Staff and a former Democratic US Representative, and Hollywood-based talent agent Ari Emanuel.

— Dean Baker & Ezekiel J. Emanuel
Beat the Press Weekly Roundup & New York Times





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.