Social Security and the American West

As Social Security reaches its 70th birthday, we westerners continue to celebrate its existence and oppose efforts from on high to privatize it.

Signed into law in August of 1935, it remains the most successful and financially sound public retirement program ever conceived.

Like most Americans we westerners support Social Security not only because of its enormous financial help but also because we understand it to be the only program in the federal government that not only pays its way but also runs huge surpluses.

Social Security provides a refreshing alternative to the current borrow and spend craze. The president andCongress won’t even fully fund our current wars, preferring to borrow that money from our children.

Polling consistently finds that the program, without a single change, will run surpluses for the next third of a century. To assure solvency well beyond that point, people support modest changes in the program’s structure, including benefit formulas and retirement age.

What we do not support here in these three so-called “Red States” of the northern Rockies (where two of our three governors is a Democrat) is the privatization of Social Security.

Like most Americans, we westerners enjoy a four-tiered approach to retirement: first, less than half have private pension plans; second, most have some voluntary savings; third, many working people have employee ” employer contribution plans such as 401Ks; and finally we have the nearly universal Social Security system. These retirement plans are complementary to each other and of the four Social Security is far and away the largest, most important and dependable.

Even a cursory look at Social Security demonstrates why it has remained so popular.

Here in the northern Rockies, the program provides support to more than 15 percent of our citizens, serving more than 290,000 people in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. In our three states, Social Security will provide $4 billion in benefits this year alone.

Those payments make up half or more of the income for 65 percent of our seniors.

In our states, Social Security assists not only the retired but also another 167,000 widows, widowers, children, disabled and their families.

We take many of the opportunities already available to privately invest in Wall Street.

Yes, some stock market gambles pay off handsomely and we are all free to take those chances.

However, prudence dictates that some of our retirement dollars be free from the obvious vagaries of investment risk. When it comes to our Social Security retirement we remember the words of Will Rogers, “I am more interested in the return of my money than the return on it.” ”

PAT WILLIAMS is a former congressman from Montana and teaches at the University of Montana in Missoula and the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.


















Pat Williams served 18 years as Montana’s Congressman. He now lives in Missoula where he teaches at the University of Montana.