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Let’s Honor MLK’s Fight for Economic Justice by Expanding Social Security


Let’s Honor MLK’s Fight for Economic Justice by Expanding Social Security

Nancy J. Altman

We live in a divisive time, where the president of the United States focuses on our differences instead of our common humanity. Though Dr. Martin Luther King was controversial, he sought to unite us, to appeal to our better angels. Dr. King believed strongly in the dignity of all of us. He understood that we are all created equal.

Because of these beliefs, he pushed not just for racial justice, but for economic justice, understanding that they are inextricably linked. He worked tirelessly for worker security, economic equality, and social justice.



We could have a viable, guaranteed, defined benefit pension system for ALL Americans, if we have the political will to do it. The model exists right now for the employees of one industry, but it could be expanded, like the proposals for Medicare. Railroad Retirement (RRTA), the government-run, employer/employee funded pension and retirement system for most U. S. railroaders, is totally separate from - and better - than Social Security. It consists of two tiers, a base Social Security level of benefits for retirees and survivors, and a pension-like level, funded by investments of the fund. Like Social Security, it is a pay-forward system, current employees pay for the benefits of current retirees.

Where it is far superior to what most Americans have now are several features: 1) It is totally separate from any employer. They have absolutely no say or control over the funds. They are not assets of any railroad, and cannot be lost in a bankruptcy, merger, or buyout. 2) A railroader’s pension is totally transferable between railroad employers. They do not start over accruing benefits if they change railroads, or are furloughed or fired for any reason. 3) There is no “good behavior” restriction on getting this pension. The money is theirs, period. Even if an employee is fired “for cause” they do not lose the money in their pension plan, and they can’t lose it because an employer decides they are going to lay off “expensive” employees right before they are due to retire.

We can do this for the rest of the country. There is absolutely no reason other than political will everyone currently under Social Security could not have a plan like this. Now, yes, railroaders and railroads do pay more in retirement taxes up-front for this system, but every railroader has the right to retire after age 60 and 30 years of service. The best part is that for most, it provides a livable retirement income, without having to be a Wal-Mart greeter on the side! The only real problem with it is that currently early retirees have to pick-up their own health insurance costs until they qualify for Medicare at age 65 (which does prevent many from retiring early), but if we can get national single-payer health care, that issue goes away as well.



indeed! They’ll give us a chance to vote for real change in 2020! Joe Biden! He’s not too old (unlike Bernie who clearly is). - ( sarcasm intended )



It’s extremely sad that we live in a country where one of the two major political parties has chosen to attract all of those who harbor animosity or downright hatred towards our fellow brothers and sisters that are people of color, and use those negative feelings and emotions to keep us separated, while continuing to stoke that flame of division with rhetoric reserved strictly for that group which keeps them in the fold.

I, for one, was raised to respect everyone equally regardless of their race, color, or creed.

As our current resident of the White House is happy to be the head cheerleader of the bigotry brigade, we, who reject his White Supremacist manifesto of malicious mania, must teach our children and future generations of those men and women who used their humanity to bring us all together.

Martin Luther King Jr. was such a man, and his legacy of love for one another will greatly outlive any human like the current Putin wannabe in DC whose love of money and power will be forgotten almost immediately once he dies.



The Railroad pension is really just a combination of Social Security with the usual Social Security taxes (tier 1) and a defined benefit plan that invests in equities, real estate, and bonds similar to the way that a typical state pension system invests (tier 2). The nice deal for the workers is the ratio of 4.9% employee contribution to 13.1% employer contribution in tier 2.
However …
Note that portability between railroad employers is not much portability at all since there are so few railroad jobs. Most workers who leave a railroad employer move to a non-railroad employer. Also, the statement that “The money is theirs, period” is only true once you are vested which happens only after 5 years of employment; similar to other pension programs. Most importantly note that the Railroad pension, like Social Security has a cap on contributions for upper income people.

I prefer a pension plan that is portable, has no income cap on contributions, has a progressive payout system like Social Security, and does not put its funds into Wall Street (though I am okay with investments in innovation funds going to small business, renewable energy, and the like).



My explanation was somewhat simplified, and yes there are those restrictions/factors, some of which I had forgotten about. I’m not sure of present policy, but it used to take 10 years of credits to be vested in Social Security. The fact that railroaders can only take their pension between railroads is limiting, but a great improvement upon what most workers have to deal with, and something that my idea would solve. Also, like Social Security, any funding problems could be solved for the longer term by lifting the cap on the payroll tax, which is already a progressive goal. Most importantly, it would end the Wall St. racket of forcing employees into the highly speculative 401(K) and RothIRA plans, which are totally dependent on the health of the stock market at the time of an employee’s retirement. My parent’s generation was the one generation that had a really good retirement overall because most of them had defined benefit pensions, and we need to get back to that.

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Agreed - defined benefit plans that provide security (but not luxury) in retirement are important. The key is having no income cap on contributions so the system is adequately funded and a progressive payout system to maintain the highest percentage benefit possible at the lower end.



We are not asking for an oligarchy to rule over everyone. What do you propose for economic justice? Universal healthcare and expanded social security in which EVERYONE participates (no exceptions!), programs for the people by the people, is the path to economic justice for all. The duopoly is built on classism. We should all howl when a candidate says his or her plan is to help “the middle class” while saying NOTHING about the impoverished. We ALL need to censure classism, which is barely talked about in full.



Thank you for this reply. I could not understand why you would be opposed to social security by the people, for the people (we) as a tool for economic justice which should help dissolve the lines of classism. Social security is about way more than retirement, though it includes retirement: unemployment, low income, disability, emergency situations … Your perspective is shared by me way more than you know! The state of the world is a spiritual crisis, and I have faith WE shall be okay. <3

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