Retirement Security: Vital for an Aging Maine

Maine is the oldest state in the nation. How we approach the needs and contributions of the over-65 population will significantly affect the future of Maine’s communities and economy. At a recent gathering of the statewide Maine Council on Aging, activists and advocates discussed opportunities to make sure Maine takes advantage of the state’s aging population and can count it as an asset rather than a detriment for the state.

Nationally, an increasing number of workers are either postponing their retirement date as a result of shaky retirement security or are attempting to survive solely on Social Security benefits. In particular, women and people of color depend on Social Security for all or most of their retirement security. As right-wing attacks on public sector workers and their pensions continue to intensify, new solutions must be found to allow workers to retire with dignity

One important way to strengthen Social Security is the proposed addition of a caregiver credit. Currently, when someone leaves the workforce to provide care for a family member, that individual does not receive Social Security credits during the time that care is provided and when they’re ready to retire their benefits are lower. This oversight disproportionately hurts women, as women account for a large majority of those providing in-homecare to children, aging parents, or family members with special needs. Magnifying this effect, if caregivers then return to the workforce, their extended time away from their careers makes it difficult for them to earn a wage that matches their experience and their lifetime earnings are even further diminished.

MPA will continue expanding its Retirement Security Ambassadors program in 2014, and is looking for new members to take part! The idea is simple: the media and elected officials, even those that share MPA’s values, do not always do a great job describing the current state of Social Security and ambassadors can help teach them about how important Social Security is and the promise it holds for future generations.

Security is a strong program. It is on rock-solid financial ground for at least the coming two decades and will be robust for as far into the future as we can estimate with only a few minor changes to ensure that everyone pays their fair share. It might be politically expedient to demonize Social Security as an entitlement program, but Social Security is America’s way of making sure that one generation of workers takes care of those who came before them. Social Security does not add a dime to the federal deficit and it enshrines the vital principle that workers should be allowed to retire and live with dignity. MPA’s Retirement Security Ambassadors help get the word out about these facts through community conversations, making small presentations for partner groups and faith organizations to explain the real state of Social Security.

Looking to Maine’s future, the fight to win an increase in the minimum wage represents a crucial component of ensuring care providers are able to earn a living wage. Down the road, conversations about a state-based social insurance program to supplement Social Security might allow Mainers to save money through a public program designed to allow everyone to pay in and everyone to benefit at the end of their career. Maine’s older population deserves to live with dignity and free from fear.